If Creation Is a Gift 0791493938, 9780791493939, 9781441607775

Brings an ecotheological perspective to postmodern gift theory.

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If Creation Is a Gift 
 0791493938, 9780791493939, 9781441607775

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If Creation is a Gift

Mark Manolopoulos

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If Creation is a Gift

SUNY series in Theology and Continental Thought Douglas L. Donkel, editor

If Creation is a Gift

Mark Manolopoulos


Published by State University of New York Press, Albany © 2009 State University of New York All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. For information, contact State University of New York Press, Albany, NY www.sunypress.edu Production by Dana Foote Marketing by Michael Campochiaro Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Manolopoulos, Mark, 1968– If creation is a gift / Mark Manolopoulos. p. cm. (SUNY series in theology and Continental thought) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-7914-9393-9 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Human ecology—Religious aspects—Christianity. 2. Gifts—Religious aspects—Christianity. 3. Creation. I. Title. BT695.5.M365 2009 261.8′8—dc22 2008017297 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Yiannis Margaritoudis (1928–1945), and for all the violated —human and otherwise

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CONTENTS Thanksgivings ix What If? 1 1 Creation-Gift-Aporia 9 2 A Brief History of Gifts 31 3 Unwrapping Marion’s Gift 63 4 Oscillation 89 5 Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos 107 After Thought 147 Notes 149 Bibliography 173 Index 183


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his book began its life as a doctoral dissertation. As a postgraduate student, I anticipated the task would be demanding, but I never envisioned it would be so enriching. To be sure, the subject matter itself played a pivotal role: I was granted the privilege of carrying out a sustained reflection on a most captivating thought—the gift of creation. However, what made the experience even more enjoyable was the support I received from so many people, both inside and outside my university life. First of all, Monash University was—and continues to be—extremely supportive. I would like to thank the university (which I began attending as an undergraduate in 1995) for a Monash Graduate Scholarship, a travel grant, and many other kinds of assistance. I am also grateful for the support I received from the Centre for Studies in Religion and Theology, under the directorship of Constant Mews, as well as the backing of the staff at the School of Historical Studies, particularly Barbara Caine and David Garrioch. I was also supported by three exceptional supervisors. Kate Rigby, my main supervisor, offered outstanding expertise and genuine enthusiasm. Those who know Kate are inevitably enriched by her passion for creation. Together with Constant Mews, Kate shattered my anthropocentrism. My associate supervisors, Robyn Horner and Roland Boer, were, likewise, extremely generous with their guidance and encouragement. Robyn Horner has nurtured my love of European thought and its American reception. Roland Boer’s involvement in my studies has fostered many opportunities, including the chance to travel to the United States—an incredibly rewarding experience—and I also thank the thinkers I visited who made it so: John D. Caputo, Richard Kearney, Catherine Keller, Mark C. Taylor, Mark I. Wallace, and Merold Westphal. A special thank-you also goes out to Kevin Hart: He has always made time for me, and I appreciate his generosity. I would also like to thank fellow Monash students for the gift of their friendship, particularly James Garza, Peter Coleman, Anne Taylor, Garry Deverell, ix



Amelia Church, and Antonella Refatto. I am most grateful to the State University of New York Press for believing in this work, and I thank Nancy Ellegate (SUNY’s senior acquisitions editor) and Douglas L. Donkel (the editor of the SUNY series in Theology and Continental Thought) for their generous support and guidance. And, finally, my life continues to be enriched by my family and friends: They spoil me with their love and laughter.

Acknowledgments Portions of this book appeared in previous versions in the following journals: Sections of the introduction and chapters 1, 2, and 5: Colloquy: Text Theory Critique: “If Creation is a Gift: From Derrida to the Earth (An Introduction)” 9 (2005): 108–23. Sections of chapter 2: The Bible and Critial Theory: “About Gifts: Derrida, Scripture, Earth” 1.4 (2005): 38.1 (12). D01: 10.2104/bc050038. Sections of chapter 3: Pacifica: Australasian Theological Studies: “Why Christianity is So Ingenious, Or, ˇizˇek is (‘Only’) Half Right” 20.1 (2007): 52–70. Why Z Sections of chapters 4 and 5: CrossCurrents: “Derrida’s Gift to Eco/theo/logy: A Critical Tribute” 54.4 (2005), http://www.crosscurrents.org Sections of chapter 5: Culture and Religion (Taylor & Francis Group http://www.informaworld.com): “Gift Theory as Cultural Theory: Reconciling the Ir/Religious” 8.1 (2007): 1–13. Philosophy Activism Nature: “Being True to the Gift of the Earth: From Nietzsche to Derrida to Creation” 4 (2007):

What If?

What if what-is is a gift? Acknowledging but bracketing the originality and utility of Cartesian doubt, one thing we know with any certainty is that creation is a given: It is there; we belong to a matrix of beings. However, when we move from the self-evident observation “the world is a given” to the proposition “the world is a gift,” we participate in a leap of faith. We move beyond the obvious and enter the speculative. When we consider “creation-as-gift,” we must be aware of the “as.” What does an awareness of the “as” entail? We need to concede and confirm that the supposition (world-as-gift) cannot be reduced to a self-evident axiom (world-asgiven): The “is” and the “as” make a world of difference. We can be certain that “creation is a given” but we should also acknowledge that the possibility of the given world being a gift is precisely that: a possibility. Its “what-ifness” and “as-ifness” need to be recognized as such. After all, can it be demonstrated—or disproved—that creation is indeed a gift? Neither philosophy nor science nor theology can provide convincing proof or counterproof when faced with this proposition. It remains an open question (for the time being). The acknowledgment of possibility (the context and counterpart of actuality) goes hand-in-hand with the recognition of undecidability (the context and counterpart of decision). Why must undecidability be allowed to play in the following work? Undecidability is neither indeterminacy nor indecision; it is the context within which religious, theological, and any other kind of decision takes place. Undecidability creates the space for faith, and a recognition and understanding of undecidability allows for a recognition and self-understanding of faith as faith. John D. Caputo assures us that “undecidability does not mean the apathy of indecision but the passion of faith,” faith being “a decision made in the midst of undecidability.”1 Could faith be anything else? Undecidability is therefore not against belief—far from it. And dogmatism would play no part in a faith that recognizes itself as such—and plays no part in the present faith-filled study. There is no question here of choosing or privileging either undecidability or decision, even if undecidability is the con1


What If?

text of decision. We are insisting here on decision’s “other” rather than denying the significance of decision. To be sure, it is not a question of deciding between the one (decision) and the other (undecidability). It is a matter of acknowledging and embracing both. Undecidability should therefore be recognized, accepted, affirmed—and never forgotten—as a condition of possibility for belief and decision. The undecidability in the presupposition “creation is a gift” should therefore be foregrounded in order to ensure that the following venture in thinking remains as rigorous and honest and self-vigilant as possible. To employ terms the ecotheologian Sallie McFague utilizes to describe her own self-reflexive book, The Body of God, the following work is “a wager, proposition, or experiment to investigate.”2 Without a recognition that decision takes place in a context of undecidability, the present work would risk sliding into dogmatism, for hubris may be figured as the ignorance or forgetfulness of undecidability. On the contrary, the present investigation recognizes its experimental dimension, persistently dwelling within the decision/undecidability dynamic. Remaining faithful to the logic or vocabulary of the what-if and as-if, what is constantly maintained is that the decision to perceive creation as a gift occurs in the context of uncertainty. This work and gamble is therefore mediated by the possible, the undecidable, the provisional.3 Acknowledging and incorporating the play of undecidability, I propose that the figuration of creation as a gift is one way of ecologically interpreting and interacting with the world. McFague makes the same point about her metaphor for creation as God’s body: Her study “attempts to look at everything through one lens. . . . The model of the universe as God’s body does not see nor does it allow us to say everything.”4 For the present work, the lens of “the gift” is acknowledged as one of several interpretive models of perceiving creation. This wager and exploration can only retain its character of a work based on the what-if and as-if if and only if its experimental and hermeneutical nature is constantly and consistently recognized, accepted, and affirmed—otherwise speculation would feign certitude. Now, an associated assumption drives this work: Not only is creation considered a gift, but the gift is identified as an aporia, and, by association, creation is itself figured as aporetic. I will discuss the question of the gift-aporia in due course, but I will begin by noting here a few introductory remarks regarding aporias per se. So, what is an aporia? To begin with, Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon defines aporos as: “without passage, and so of places, impassable, trackless” and aporia as: “of places, difficulty of passing; . . . of questions, a difficulty.”5 “Aporia” therefore implies an experience of impassability: that which resists

What If?


passing-through. The term has taken on a specifically theoretical denotation, coming to mean a contradiction in a text or theory. An aporia is, in other words, a puzzle, a paradox. An acknowledgment of the aporia’s impassability or tension therefore induces a certain paralysis: How to get out? Without being preemptive, we may nevertheless propose that this immobility is (or, may to turn out to be) a good thing. How so? Beginning on the etymological level, it is interesting to note that the current popular meaning of “paralysis” reverses its original Greek designation, where paraluo¯ referred to loosening from the side, detaching, undoing, setting free. “Paralysis” can therefore signal both a hardening and a loosening. Like paralysis in its doubled sense, “aporeticity” (the aporetic quality of something) is a paralysis which nevertheless opens up the possibility for a certain passage. With specific reference to the gift, Caputo invites us “to be paralyzed by this aporia and then to make a move (when it is impossible).”6 Aporeticity may therefore be a condition of possibility for moving or passing through. Robyn Horner articulates the nature of this decisive move: “An aporia, by definition, cannot be solved, but only resolved by a decision to act in a particular way, to act as if there were a way forward.”7 As the present meditation moves along, I, too, will speak of a certain paralysis-and-movement, but in somewhat different terms. What may be affirmed here is that the disjunctive nature of an aporia does not necessarily entail political, ethical, religious, or philosophical impasse or paralysis: This double movement—or, more accurately, stasis-and-movement—is akin to undecidability and decision, uncertainty and belief, theoria and praxis, deconstruction and reconstruction. Both impasse and passage are conditions of possibility for each other. And so, the present “aporetics” (the study of aporias) emphasizes those facets of thinking that seem to have been forgotten, denied, and even demonized by (at least) Western philosophical and theological discourses: possibility, undecidability, aporeticity, etc. In light of my emphasis on these somewhat neglected facets, a risk arises: Will this aporetics be misconstrued as “yet another” display of postmodern posturing or obscurantism that would effectively—and irresponsibly—downplay the ecological crisis? This risk and possibility ensues if and only if we assume that nuanced, provisional discourse is automatically associated with impotent thinking. One cannot deny that one always faces the risk of a paralyzing self-vigilance. After the development of all that is excessive or hubristic in Western thought, it is little wonder that radical thinking (including feminism, deconstruction, ecology, phenomenology, etc.)—whose insights guide this work in all kinds of explicit and implicit ways—is keen to expose the dubi-


What If?

ous developments of human reason and continually demonstrate the exaggerations, limitations, and paradoxes of thought. But one should not thereby deduce that critical and self-conscious thinking could not be constructive or prescriptive. What is required is the delineation of constructive paths in nuanced and cautious ways. Let us therefore pursue a thinking that proceeds prudently with a concomitant praxis. As I hope to show, a self-vigilant aporetics needn’t be ethico-politically ineffective. The requirement that the present work may contribute to a radically ecological sensibility is not only motivated by a desire for rigorous (and passionate) thinking, but equally (or perhaps primarily) by an awareness of the severe ecological violence committed by us humans. The present work is not a denial (subtle or otherwise) of the ecological crisis but a passionate response to it. This study responds to—is responsible to—the disturbing state of creation. As the empirical data amply illustrate, the phenomenon of creation’s deterioration has rightly become an increasingly urgent and fundamental one.8 Although some academics and industrialists may erroneously and irresponsibly attempt to ignore or downplay the crisis, it is, nevertheless, a crisis—perhaps the crisis of our time and of the time to come. While valid in its identification of the statistical exaggeration of several environmental thinkers—no doubt motivated by the noble intention of saving creation—a text like Bjørn Lomborg’s attention-grabbing The Skeptical Environmentalist combines, among several things, a gross andro-anthropocentrism with a severe scientism—and is thereby terribly irresponsible.9 My investigation attempts to contribute to “the” ecological movement (no doubt, multifarious—hence the quotation marks), whose tasks include alerting humanity to its terrible perception and mistreatment of the planet. The “why” of this study is therefore linked to the desire to contribute to this most urgent of tasks—the task of thinking and acting ecologically, of thinking and acting in ways that are more sensitive toward other-than-human others, other humans, and our selves. Hence, as “theoretical” or “abstract” as this discourse may be, it is “nevertheless” intended as an unequivocally eco-affirmative text, an intention motivated by the notion that ortho-skepsis leads to ortho-praxis.

Derrida’s Gift And so, acknowledging and affirming the roles of possibility, undecidability, and aporeticity in this work, the guiding question of this study is: What would it mean if creation is a gift—or at least perceived or conceived as such? Before

What If?


asking what is denoted by the term “creation” in the present context, how is “gift” defined and developed here, for the former (creation) is here being figured in terms of the latter (gift)? Why is the gift itself an aporia and a problem? To begin with, I adopt the everyday (Western) definition of gifting: In Horner’s words (and drawing on Jacques Derrida’s work in this area), it occurs when “someone freely gives something to someone.”10 The qualifier “Western” signifies an openness to Ken Lokensgard’s contention that “Derrida’s definition applies for only a limited number of people in today’s world”—though one wonders how any other definition of “gift” could differentiate its meaning from words like “commodity” or “exchange.”11 On the face of it, this practice doesn’t pose a problem. But can a gift be freely given? Horner concisely sums up the two crucial aspects of the gift and the concomitant dilemma: “Freedom and presence are the conditions of the gift as we know it. . . . Now, if the gift is present—that is, if it can be identified as such—then the gift is no longer gift but commodity, value, measure, or status symbol.”12 It should be noted that, for reasons that will become clear as I proceed, the term “freedom and presence” stands for two clusters of concepts: The former, “freedom,” also stands for excess, gratuity, the unconditional, and so on; the latter, “identification,” also refers to exchange, gratitude, the conditional, etc.13 However, for ecological reasons that also will become clearer in due course, I usually utilize polarities like “excess/exchange” and “gratuity/gratitude” to denote the gift’s two basic elements. Now, as Horner rightly observes, it turns out that the idea or definition of the gift “never seems to accord with its practical reality.”14 The gift’s aporetic nature is starkly posed in Derrida’s Given Time, the present meditation’s most determinative text (for Derrida engages the question of the gift from his earliest works). Given Time discloses the paradoxicality of the gift: “For there to be gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt.”15 And yet, the gift is marked by gratuity and its other. An aporia, indeed. Exchange, which lays bare the gift’s irreducible aporeticity and thereby confounds the idea of an absolutely unconditional or “pure” gift, marks all three aspects of gift-giving: giver, gift, and recipient. To begin with, the giver receives something in return, be it another gift, gratitude, self-congratulation, or even hostility—for even displeasure or rejection gives something back to the giftgiver: the reinforcement of the giver’s identity.16 On the part of the recipient, the mere recognition of the gift is enough to bring it into circularity. The gift may lead to a countergift or a sense of indebtedness. Even indifference (for instance, apathy toward the gift) is simply a subtler gifting-back. The gift-thing itself likewise does not escape circular economy. (I qualify the word “economy”— which means the law, nomos, of the house, oikos—with “circular” because the


What If?

former term does not necessarily or exclusively entail exchange; for example, Georges Bataille’s notion of “general economy” exceeds the circularity of “restricted [exchange] economy.”)17 Now, whether the gift is a thing, an intention, a value, or a symbol, it is nevertheless identified as a gift and this recognition brings it into the circle of reciprocity. If the gift is not identified as such, then it would perhaps escape exchange economy—remain aneconomic—but then it would no longer be phenomenally recognized as such. The conditions that therefore make gifting possible simultaneously make gifting (the) impossible.18 What is the significance of the gift-aporia for the question of subjectivity? Derrida argues that the “subject” and “object” are concepts and phenomena that reinforce the gift’s economic status. Pure gifting would occur outside, beyond, or before subjectivity: “If there is gift, the given of the gift . . . must not come back to the giving (let us not already say to the subject, to the donor)” and “if there is gift, it cannot take place between two subjects exchanging objects, things, or symbols.” For Derrida, “the subject and the object are arrested affects of the gift.”19 So what does the gift’s excess or prior-ity— expressing “prior-ity” with a hyphen emphasizes the gift’s precedence or immemoriality rather than insinuating any kind of primacy or superiority—mean in terms of intentionality? Insofar as the gift requires recognition, intention plays an indispensable role. (“It’s the thought that counts.”) It seems that intentionality annuls the gift of its giftness—or at least its linearity. However, the paradox of the gift weds the intentional with its other. First, why is the gift other-thanintentional? It happens as an event: It is “unforeseeable,” “irruptive,” “disinterested,” “unexplainable by a system of efficient causes.”20 The gift-event brings “into relation luck, chance, the aleatory, tukhe¯ [luck/fortune], with the freedom of the dice, with the donor’s gift throw.” However, this is only half the story; Derrida cautions that, in order to have gifting, there must be intentionality: “Effects of pure chance will never form a gift. . . . There is no gift without the intention of giving.” Derrida gets to the heart of this particular paradox: “There must be chance, encounter, the involuntary, even unconsciousness or disorder, and there must be intentional freedom, and these two conditions must—miraculously, graciously—agree with each other.” In other words, the gift is “bothand”: It is marked by both intentionality and its other. Now, Derrida’s Given Time has not lost its force or irritation. As rigorous and persuasive as it is, the analysis is confronting and annoying: Who wants to concede that the gift is a problem? That its conditions are irreducibly contradictory? But as Horner’s articulation makes clear, the argument’s validity is evidenced in our everyday encounters: Our experiences of gifting are tied to exchange; we do not participate in a purely gratuitous gifting.21 The theologian

What If?


Stephen H. Webb rightly observes: “Everybody seems to know that giving is calculated, not spontaneous, and structured (and thereby canceled) by the expectation of an equivalent return.”22 Derrida’s analysis is as “restrained” as it is confronting: His discourse is generously littered with nuances. Regarding the question of circularity and its effect on gifting, Derrida provides a two-way qualification: He argues that he is against neither exchange nor gifting in any simple or hyper-idealistic sense. He stresses: “One should not necessarily flee or condemn circularity as one would . . . a vicious circle. . . . One must, in a certain way of course, inhabit the circle, turn around in it, live there a feast of thinking, and the gift, the gift of thinking, would be no stranger there.”23 According to this statement, Derrida registers the place of circularity; while he loves excess, he responsibly responds to the gift’s paradoxicality by resisting the temptation to deny or devalue exchange simplistically. And so, Given Time insightfully emphasizes the aporetic nature of the gift vis-à-vis gratuity’s gracious and miraculous co-implication with commerce. Furthermore, Derrida constantly qualifies the possibility of the gift with the phrase “if there is any.”24 The logic of the “if” and familial concepts (“as if,” “perhaps,” “maybe,” etc.) steadfastly mark Given Time. His approach to the question of the gift is obviously inscribed by a necessary uncertainty and perplexity—aporias provoke nothing less.25 This hesitation is most profoundly acknowledged in the following remark (which takes place in the context of a discussion about gifting and subjectivity): “If the gift is annulled in the economic odyssey of the circle as soon as it appears as gift or as soon as it signifies itself as gift, there is no longer any ‘logic of the gift,’ and one may safely say that a consistent discourse on the gift becomes impossible.”26 Note how this statement is prefaced by an “if” and constantly qualified by the “as”—and the emphases are not added. Note, too, that this statement is offered early on in the text: Derrida recognizes that discussions on the gift are necessarily inconsistent—an inconsistency structured by the “madness” involved in gifting and its thinking. The present aporetics acknowledges and affirms this madness. But why should one confirm and affirm this inability to speak consistently about the gift? As provocative as it sounds, this “inadequacy” is a good thing: By definition, any discourse on whatever is aporetic and mysterious ultimately fails to secure its subject matter. Derrida explicitly states that the gift has a “mysterious and elusive character.”27 The mysterious ultimately eludes the gaze and grasp of epistemic mastery—something we moderns (and not just us) keep forgetting, keep suppressing. Derrida avoids here any pretension to totality, as well as any pretension to an absolute apophatism (negativity, unknowing) and its concomitant silence: After all, he writes about the gift.28 He displays an awareness of the ultimate inconsistency involved in thinking gifting, and this kind of awareness


What If?

also informs the present discourse. The inevitability of discursive inconsistency is not a negative criticism. Referring to thinkers who have broached the question of the gift in the past, Derrida explains: “Neither Molière nor Mauss, at bottom, has ever said anything about the gift itself. And what we are trying to explain here is why there is no fault in that.”29 The following critique of thinkers (which includes Derrida himself) is therefore a critique without condemnation. The gift is certainly an aporia. For Derrida, the pure gift cannot appear as such: “The gift does not exist and does not present itself.”30 And yet, Derrida does not deny the phenomenality of the circulated gift: “We do not mean to say that there is no exchanged gift. One cannot deny the phenomenon, nor that which presents this precisely phenomenal aspect of exchanged gifts. But the apparent, visible contradiction of these two values—gift and exchange—must be problematized.”31 To rethink this problematization in a “positive” and “constructive” eco/theo/logical direction—this is the very goal of the present work. What does this mean if one then proceeds to propose that creation is a gift (gratuitously given and identified as such)? The recognition of creation as a gift would immediately annul its giftness. One can already foresee the troubling implications of this aporia. Is creation marked by both excess and exchange? If so, how should the gift’s tension be confronted? Can the aporia be resolved—and must it? Can the gift’s negotiation be ecologically and ecotheologically instructive?




o begin with, how is the broad and complex term “creation” employed in the present context? Due to the sweeping nature of this word, the task of definition requires a particularly delicate, nuanced handling. I employ the term according to an interplay of popular and refigured meanings—meanings in the plural, for “creation” carries polyvalences and ambivalences. The word’s nuances may only be brought into sharper focus as the study advances; however, a delineation of the way “creation” is redefined here is particularly useful not only for the sake of clarity, but also in terms of disclosing some of the parameters of the present examination. So, what is at work in the word “creation”? The term is employed here to denote (1) the dynamic, open-ended totality of (2) material things in their (3) relationality and (4) creativity.

A Radically Ecological Egalitarianism One of the definitions of “creation” in the OED (Online) is “creatures collectively.”1 This phrase folds two features of the word. First, it denotes creation “as a whole”—although this “totality” is not crudely construed here as a closed collective: “Creation” is employed with a recognition of, and appreciation for, its dynamic and open-ended nature, marked as it is by relational and creative corporeal beings. Second, “creation” encompasses “creatures.” How are “creatures” understood here? Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of “creation” as it is defined in the current work is its thoroughgoing inclusiveness: “Creation” stands here for all corporeal “creatures” or entities—not just human beings, not just other-than-human beings, but also human and other-than-human products, manufactured things—yes, even other-than-human manufacture. As Alice Walker points out: “Even tiny insects in the South American jungle know how to make plastic . . .”2 The word “creation” therefore encompasses both the natural and the artificial; it includes the primordial and the manufactured. According to the present study, “creatures collectively” therefore not only refers 9


Chapter 1

to mountains or mites, trees or cells, but also to the most spectacular and “mundane” human and other-than-human constructions: skyscrapers, chairs, plastic bags, ant-plastic, etc. To be sure, this radically ecological egalitarianism is initially arresting, even disturbing: If “creation” has conventionally implied phusis, then the present expansion of this notion will certainly sound strange to our anthropocentrically accustomed ears. (I will not elaborate on the phenomenon of “strong” anthropocentrism or “human racism” here, even though its criticism and destabilization underpins the entire study, for a number of thinkers have provided powerful critiques of our anthropocentrism.)3 We can begin to familiarize ourselves with this confronting democratism by citing the insightful work of ecophilosopher Freya Mathews. Mathews argues against any “categorical distinction” between the humanly constructed and phusis, and advises that we “set aside the intuitive tendency, shared by many of the ecologically minded, to see Nature as enchanted but our own handiwork as somehow intrusive and disenchanting.”4 Perceptively, Mathews adds: The meaning of the artifact is finite and transparent to us because we are its creators, but this may be too shortsighted a view. Perhaps we should not be lulled by the familiar functional face that our artifacts present to us. We may have baked the bricks and built the buildings, smelted the steel and shaped it into automobiles, but these are only transitory forms that are assumed by materials that are, after all, deeply other-than-us, materials that have alien histories in the depths of mountains or ancient forests or in the cores of blown-out stars and will have alien futures, once they have returned, as almost everything created by us does, into the ground.5

A radically egalitarian ecology would therefore be the deepest, most expansive kind of ecology, exceeding the nevertheless impressive biological egalitarianism exemplified by deep ecology, while this kind of ecology would be a truly “social” ecology, recognizing humanity’s inclusion in the democracy of creation.6 This radical inclusiveness is signaled by thinkers as diverse as Italo Calvino and Susan Griffin.7 And surely this egalitarianism pervades the works of many brave and thoughtful poets and artists. Radical eco-egalitarianism is therefore crucial in terms of the way we think “creation”: For the most part, excess, mystery, reverence, and respect have been historically attached to the most “obviously” enigmatic figures—deities and angels, spirits and souls, stars and planets, natural wonders, human psyches, and so on. This is not a criticism aimed solely at theology, for theology itself has, on the rare occasion, pointed toward egalitarianism in the thought of thinkers like Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), Meister



Eckhart (1260–1329), and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). And with the advent of discourses like quantum physics, one cannot deny the depth or mystery of the microcosmic world, though it may often be ignored or neglected (or worse). Of course, our insistence on the mystery of things must be amplified in an age of ubiquitous commodification and consumption: Our awe and respect should be extended to all things—even the humanly constructed things that are usually perceived as “ordinary,” “lackluster,” “rubbish.” And so, the present meditation may be more accurately described as an oikological—rather than an “ecological”—aporetics: Oikos refers to “home” and is registered here to extend the terms of reference of “eco” found in the stricter scientific term “ecology” which characteristically refers to the study of biological systems. By evoking a radical democratism, this work emphasizes the things that have become the most disregarded, denigrated, and devastated. These include other-than-human creatures and the environment, but also those things that are produced by humans that do not normally command our awe and respect— or even our attention. Indeed, as the ever-attentive ecophilosopher Kate Rigby reminds me in conversation, we mass-manufacturers and hyper-consumers, constituents of a throwaway culture, characteristically and harmfully dispose of these things by casting them aside in overflowing landfills. Now, an important objection arises with the expansion of the terms of reference for “creation.” It seems to imply a denial of any ethical dimension to this aporetics, an ethical indiscriminateness: If every thing falls under the category of “creation,” and if all creation-things are considered “gifts,” then this reflection would be unable to discriminate against that which is ecologically violent, for how could ecologically harmful things like plastic bags or bombs be considered gifts? The complex question of violence and intentionality is discussed in chapter 4, so I offer the following clarification here: A thing may be a gift (or marked by the aspect of giftness), but it is also more and otherwise; a thing’s giftness is but one of its many possible aspects. My contention is that humanly produced things (as well as humans themselves) are gifts—but gifts that can also disfigure and/or destroy other gifts. As strange as it sounds (but variously demonstrated by Pascal, Mathews, quantum physics, etc.), what is crucial to note here is that gifts like plastics and bombs are composed of mysterious, miraculous matter, but these things’ destructive element derives from a complex matrix of human calculation, intervention, construction, and operation. In other words, a thing or pragma can only be construed as a nongift if it is measured according to the limited category of its human conception, transformation, and deployment; a bomb-thing, for example, would be exclusively construed as a bomb-and-nothing-else/more. The thing’s phusis is ignored according to such a perspective—which is, admittedly, the dominant (and domineering) perspec-


Chapter 1

tive of instrumentalizing anthropocentrism. This kind of narrow-mindedness is one of anthropocentrism’s crowning “achievements”: A pragma is construed exclusively as a utensil. Perhaps this would account for any hostility that a radical ecodemocratism may incite: It challenges the prevailing view, a view so ingrained that any calls for a truly ecological democracy can seem “counterintuitive.” Thus, to consider the matrix of creation-things as gifts is to challenge our entrenched instrumentalism. Of course, I am not suggesting that we continue on the current path of designing and manufacturing ecologically destructive products like bombs, Styrofoam containers, etc. What is being proposed and stressed is that all matter—even when it is manipulated by violent, polluting humans—is marked by giftness. In other words, a thing may be created by us humans to intentionally or unintentionally disfigure or destroy, and this is undoubtedly unethical, but the thing itself nevertheless possesses an element of giftness. In sum, we acknowledge that gift-things are multifaceted, and that the giftness that marks their materiality may nonetheless be annulled or overshadowed by objectionable structures and processes, such as human intention, production, operation, and manipulation. (Devastating natural disasters, on the other hand, cannot be considered evil acts.) The gift’s duality in this respect is reflected in its etymology: The Greek and Latin, dosis, of which “dose” is derived, can mean a present, a poison, or a cure; and, in German, Gift means “poison.”8 It is also important to note that an awareness of multiple aspects to things may also guard against the possibility of erasing difference: To propose that all things are gifts does not thereby deny individuation; pragmata may share the feature of giftness, but this shared feature does not thereby preclude their differentiation. Giftness is—or may be—but one “common denominator”; it is—or may be—but one of many aspects to things. Now, the definition of creation as “creatures collectively” probably obscures a third crucial feature of creation: This word does not (or should not) exclusively (or even primarily) refer to pragmata, but includes—and/or is preceded by—the relations between things. This aporetics thereby acknowledges and affirms that what-is is indelibly marked by relationality. Radical, insightful discourses (process thought, phenomenology, ecofeminism, etc.) recognize that we humans are embedded in a complex web of beings. Post-Newtonian science also confirms the intrinsic interconnectedness of things.9 Citing the work of Alfred North Whitehead and theologian Charles Hartshorne, Webb succinctly sums up the drastic implications of relationality: “Relation, synthesis, dependence are not additions to any given entity but part of the entity from the very beginning. The idea of independent, concrete substances is an abstraction that does not do justice to the complexity of reality. Novelty, relationship, and becoming are



the key terms that replace the traditionally static metaphysical vocabulary of sameness, substance, and being.”10 While the present aporetics applauds the espousal of dependence and becoming, it prefers—for reasons that will become clearer as I proceed—to maintain a certain tension between these two logics, rather than perform a (somewhat justified) replacement or inversion. Creation be/comes. And so, “creation” signifies here (1) the material totality or matrix of (2) material things in all their (paradoxical) independence and (3) creaturely relationality.

From What/Whom (Else)? A fourth designation of “creation” refers to the creative act, denoting not only the dynamic totality-of-things but also this matrix’s makings: “Creation” is becoming, process. Creation creates. Catherine Keller notes that “The term ‘creation’ has the advantage of emphasizing the creative novelty, the mysterious event-character, of what comes to be . . . ,” adding: “Thus we cannot simply exchange it [the word “creation”] for ‘universe,’ ‘cosmos,’ or ‘nature.’”11 Creation’s creativity may be elucidated by employing the Greek term poie¯sis, which denotes bringing-forth or coming-into-presence. Poie¯sis means “a making: a forming, creating” (as well as denoting “the art of poetry”), while autopoios means “selfproduced.”12 “Creation” can therefore refer to the creative actions of human and other-than-human creation—exemplified by the plastic-creating ant. As part of material creation, humans and other-than-humans create creations. That is why it is crucial that we recognize cultural products and artifacts as falling under the rubric of “creation.” This accords with the promotion of the egalitarianism of the present work. Heeding the insights of discourses advancing flux, becoming, and process (Heraclitean, Hegelian, Nietzschean, Whiteheadian, etc.), we acknowledge and affirm the dynamic, creative aspect to what-is. The term “creation” therefore denotes both creation-things and creation-acts: “Creation” does not simply refer here to what-is, but also to its ongoing creativity. Now, the notion of creativity raises several broad, complex, and correlated issues. The most immediately relevant problem may be framed as a question: I noted that creation creates, but does it create autopoie¯tically (self-creatively)— or are there other cocreators, and, if so, how do they instigate or contribute to this creativity? Perhaps the best way to broach this issue is to enact a kind of suspension, which is a double movement, both inhibiting (preventing-fromcontinuing) and allowing (letting-hang). How is this double movement related to the question of creation’s “who and how”? What will become apparent is that


Chapter 1

the requirement for a double movement that produces a kind of openness (an openness which both allows and prevents) proves to be methodologically, ecumenically, and ecologically necessary and beneficial. How so? While creation ostensibly autopoie¯ticizes, the proposition that there are no other possible cocreative forces or agencies at play would deny the undecidable nature of the act of material creativity; in other words, a pure and simple autopoie¯sis denies the possibility of cocreativity. I affirm the proposition that creation itself should be identified as self-creative, although I also leave open the question regarding whether what-is creates exclusively autopoie¯tically or otherwise. This openness may be expressed graphically as “auto/poie¯sis”: The forward slash, denoting undecidability in this case, disturbs the idea of a “purely” independent arising. With auto/poie¯sis in mind, I am now able to approach the question of the religious resonance of “creation”—a word that is theologically saturated, in fact, considering the construal that the divine is the “Creator” of creation. But our insistence on undecidability means that the question of divine-making remains wide open, allowing it to “hang” but ensuring that it does not close off any other possibilities. What this means in terms of the question of a divine “who-how” of creativity is that the identity of possible cocreators remains undecidable: Such cocreators need not correlate in any exclusive sense with the faith of any identifiable religion—especially the determinate monotheisms. One could assume several alternative positions: For example, that what-is is created polytheistically, or arises out of a chaotic abyss, or emerges autopoie¯tically, or expands and contracts eternally, and so on. All of these alternatives are registered here as legitimate possibilities, for the question of creation’s emergence—like the question of the giftness of creation—is an open one; the question of the “from what/who” remains undecidable. Hence, the allusion to deity in the word “creation” needs to be read here as an allusion to a possibility—nothing more and nothing less. But should a meditation that acknowledges and affirms its status as the exploration of a possibility (creation-as-gift) employ a loaded and therefore possibly noninclusive term like “creation,” especially when “creation” implies a doubled assumption: that the creation-gift (first assumption) is cocreated by a Creator-God (second assumption)? In other words, does the employment of a theologically charged word disclose a certain inclination—a certain religious or theological bias? Yes, but one may inscribe this inclination or bias within the logic of the “if” that informs this meditation. The utilization of the term “creation” indicates an explicit recognition of, and openness to, the possibility that divinity plays a role in corporeal creativity. The potential of this possibility should not be diluted by refusing to engage this word or by exclusively drawing



on alternative, less theologically sonorous (and narrower) terms like “cosmos” or “universe.” However (and at the same time), an unqualified use of the term “creation” would perhaps betray a desire to transform the possibility (creationmay-be-gift) into a dogmatic assumption (creation-is-gift); hence, the urgency to suspend and reconfigure certain aspects of the word “creation.” Now, a certain dual suspension proves fortuitous and necessary not only methodologically but also ecumenically and ecologically. A particular kind of bracketing of the question of cocreators discloses a radical ecumenism. If the anonymity of creation’s comakers is taken seriously, then a radical opening ensues in terms of ecumenism—and not just in terms of dialogue between Christian churches, or between Christianity and other monotheisms, or between monotheisms and other religions; oikoumene, after all, signifies “the inhabited globe.”13 If believers were to acknowledge that divinity (Yahweh / the Trinity / Allah / etc.) is ultimately marked by an irreducible undecidability, then the question of divine identity would be recognized as ultimately undecidable—as a matter of faith. Incapable of being settled in any definitive sense, the nature of deity remains an open question (for the time being). One is able to identify certain thinkers who implicitly or explicitly (and in different ways) bracket the question of the “how” of creativity. According to theologian Kenneth L. Schmitz, the fourth-century Christian thinker Lactantius “protests that the failure to comprehend the way in which creation has come about is no good reason for denying the fact that it has.”14 Schmitz himself admits: “Theoretically, an appeal to God is not needed in order to explain things . . .”15 Marginalizing the question of the how (and why) of creativity is also proposed by McFague: “A spirit theology focuses attention not on how and why creation occurred either in the beginning or the evolutionary aeons of time, but on the rich variety of living forms that have been and are now present on our planet.”16 As a process ecotheologian, Jay McDaniel nevertheless keeps open the possibility of polytheism: “Those who travel the ecological path can, if they choose, believe in the ontological reality of gods and goddesses, all the while remaining Christian, or they can remain, as I do, undecided.”17 And, finally, writing as a phenomenologist, Jean-Luc Marion is also keen to preserve the anonymity of the gift-giver (refer to chapter 3). The present work shares this desire to keep the question of gift-giver as open as possible, and to focus on the gift itself—creation. By keeping the question of who/what unlocked, this study suspends the differences associated with divisive identifications. In order to avoid slipping into a dogmatic position, this work (which is not, after all, a dogmatics—theological or otherwise) emphatically plays with the anonymity and undecidability of the gift-giver—to the extent that there may be no giver at all. Even when the present aporetics presup-


Chapter 1

poses a cocreator (a quasi-biblical deity) this presupposition ultimately remains structurally unnecessary. The work proceeds according to the supposition that material creation is a gift: An inquiry into who gifts and how remains somewhat peripheral. What is the relation between maintaining the undecidability and openness of the question of the how-of-creation and the question of atheism? By maintaining the anonymity of the gift-giver, this inquiry makes room for its possibility: Atheism is recognized as a legitimate possibility with regard to the giftgiving who-what, since the giver (if any) may not be a deity. However, dogmatic atheism closes the openness of this question in its denial of the possibility of a gift-giving deity. This aporetics opposes such closure. An atheism open to the question of the what-who, and open to the figuration of creation as a gift, would acquiesce with this study. Agnosticism (which is, by definition, open-minded) is certainly amenable here. The only essential assumption required is that the matrix of beings is considered a gift. My work is therefore receptive to the possibility of reaching every kind of believer and unbeliever—and, in Mark C. Taylor’s words, to those “between belief and unbelief.”18 After all, this radically ecumenical aporetics embraces open-minded believers, atheists, and “inbetweeners.” A certain “in-difference” to the question of the identity of the gift-giver is ecologically fortuitous, for the crux of the study lies with the gift itself (creation). By keeping the question of who-what as open as possible, I am thereby able to devote more time to the question of the gift per se. If the essential assumption of the investigation is that creation is perceived as a gift, I am better able to focus on the oikos rather than the theos. By emphasizing the anonymity of the giver, the way is paved for ecological thought. Treating the question of gift-giver/s in any in-depth way would necessarily subtract from the focus of the meditation. In theology and philosophy, not enough time and attention has been paid to the corporeal: My work is guided by the need to redress this imbalance. Hence, the ruling question here is “what if what-is is a gift?” rather than “what-who is the giver who gifts?” My immediate concern is the gift itself.

Revisiting Divine Creativity Hence, this aporetics is primarily a kind of ontics: The emphasis lies on creation’s “thingness” or “whatness” rather than its “isness” or “thatness”; it is informed by an ecologically driven in-difference to ontological difference. But I reiterate: The question of “giver/s” is not suspended outright, for the issue of God-as-(co)giver is ecologically consequential: The way we receive and interact with the cosmos-gift itself may often be informed by how we perceive this



gift’s donors—if it is one, and if it has any. I therefore provide a brief critique of conventional figurations of divine donation by examining the layers of theological meaning that have accrued in the word “creation.” What will become obvious is the necessity of correcting aspects of how we read the gifting God when it comes to creation. Theology typically (though not exclusively) defines deity as an omnipotent Creator-God, and the “how” of creation is conventionally characterized in terms of the notion of creatio ex nihilo: God creates the world in an absolute sense; in other words, before the divine creative act there is absolutely nothing.19 This apparently postscriptural axiom is being increasingly questioned by several biblical exegetes and theologians. The most recent and devastating critique of this doctrine is undertaken by Keller in Face of the Deep, with its passionate commitment to Genesis 1.2: “The earth was a formless void (tohu va bohu) and darkness covered the face of the deep (tehom), while a wind from God (ruach elohim) swept over the face of the waters.” Keller convincingly argues that Genesis 1.2 portrays biblical creation as an interplay between ruach and the chaotic, primordial tehom rather than a unilateral action by an omnipotent Creator. A brief discussion of Genesis 1 will support the proposition that biblical creation seems to be cocreation. The creation-act involves a multiplicity of movements. To begin with, there is a play between divine spirit and the abyss (Gen. 1.2). Elohim beckons a letting-be (Gen. 1.3), which is perhaps a “solicitation” rather than a command. McDaniel proffers: “God has created and continues to create the world through persuasion rather than coercion, evocation rather than manipulation, invitation rather than compulsion.”20 This cocreation is marked by dispersal and difference (Gen. 1.4f). The creative act of Genesis 1 is therefore manifold: interactive, seductive, disseminative. It is an open invitation. Cocreation is irreducible to one kind of event; it stresses interrelation between deity and primordial materiality, a calling-forth that is a lettingbe, and a multiplying individuation. Of course—or perhaps—the multiple creative acts of the Bible (interaction, elocution, letting-be, dissemination) would ostensibly be otherwise than how we humans could think such events, for, by definition, they exceed the human capacity to conceive them. In other words, divine cocreation would surpass human comprehension. Hence, this meditation conjoins two somewhat unthinkables: the events of creation and gifting. Jürgen Moltmann contends: “Because God’s creative activity has no analogy, it is also unimaginable”— though we shouldn’t underestimate the power of analogy and imagination.21 And so, this multidimensional, correlative, somewhat-unimaginable creativity confounds and exceeds any simplistic conventional notion of materiality’s absolute origination from an all-powerful deity. However, creation-from-


Chapter 1

nothing should not be discounted outright, despite its dubious elements. Keller herself admits to the possibility that tehom itself may be divinely created; an attentive thinker like Keller does not simplistically propose the “demolition” of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo but admirably argues for this dominant notion’s “destabilization.”22 After all (or, to begin with), Genesis 1 remains silent on the question of the deep’s “creation” or “origin,” thereby leaving open the possibility of a divine creation-from-nothing. The current work respects and reflects this undecidability, hence, leaving room for the possibility of the contradictory variety of both of these (and other) figurations of divine creation—as perplexing as this cohabitation appears. There must be an unwavering recognition of the undecidability or play between the two basic positions, “pure” autopoie¯sis and “pure” creatio ex nihilo, which causes us to waver. So far, I have examined the way in which the “how” of creation has been depicted theologically. How does theology construe the “what” of divine creation? In the context of an “all-powerful” God who creates from nothing, “creation” is conventionally construed as a piece of “handiwork” (Psalm 19.1) single handedly produced by a Creator. Schmitz recognizes that “an absolutely all-powerful God, creator ex nihilo, seems utterly outmoded” but then asks—somewhat unenthusiastically—whether a finite or processual God, “in mutual interaction with creatures, giving but also receiving from them” is the only other option.23 Unfortunately, Schmitz does not pursue this possibility, for when “creation” is construed in terms of ex nihilo, it can imply a kind of purely linear, entirely completed, mastered, and essentialized object, which denies and restricts fluidity, changeability, interdependency—and completion and mastery promote political conservatism and tyranny. To be sure, the notion of a static creation is implied in Genesis 2.2: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he [sic] had done . . .”24 The inference is a closed, completed cosmos. The literality or metaphoricity of this narrative matters little here; of import is the story’s vocabulary of completion: Creation seems to lack autonomy and process. Thankfully, discourses have arisen (philosophies of becoming, process thought, etc.) that are attempting to displace received notions of a static creation, which is crucial because the idea of creation as a completed object by a divine Overlord perhaps lends itself to an even more dubious one: That the completed other-than-human world is given —perhaps as a gift—to humans.25 Again, biblical passages like Genesis 1.26–28 (human dominion over creation) and Genesis 9 (the covenant with Noah) promote or easily lend themselves to the anthropocentric notion that otherthan-human creation is for humans—both in terms of instrumentalism and domination.26 As I noted above, our instrumentalizing anthropocentrism fundamentally or exclusively construes a pragma as some thing of use or benefit to us—a mere instrument. Instrumentalism forms part of an interconnected net-



work of hierarchical-dualistic thinking in which the Other is reduced to a means for human ends.27 Domination, which may be considered an extreme form of instrumentalism, seems to be sanctioned by the call in Genesis for human “dominion” over creation.28 Theological traditions are certainly marked by ecologically crippling instrumentalism and domination. The following example from The Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) illustrates the point: Man [sic] is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it . . .”29

Ecotheologian Matthew Fox declares with much warrant: “Creationcentered spirituality, the spiritual tradition that is the most Jewish, most biblical, the most prophetic, and the most like the kind Jesus of Nazareth preached and lived, has been almost lost in the West. . . . [W]e have often been fed introverted, anti-artistic, anti-intellectual, apolitical, sentimental, dualistic, ascetic, and in many ways masochistic spirituality parading as Christian spirituality.”30 Certainly, the relation between Christianity and human domination over creation is a complex one, and one should stress the qualifier “often” in Fox’s scathing but justified critique: The degree of creation-centeredness has varied across different Christian epochs and places. One should also register the possibility of religion’s ecopotential: While religions and their dominant theological discourses have contributed to the ecological crisis, they can also help the fight against ecodegradation and contribute to the rise of ecological consciousness.31 It should also be noted that our instrumentalizing, body-denying tendencies cannot be solely attributed to religion. Science, too, has played its part in the instrumentalization of pragmata. Traditional biblical and theological determinations of “creation” as a utensil have been compounded—probably decisively—by various modern-scientific worldviews treating the other-thanhuman (and human) world as artifact, object, or experiment.32 Heideggerian scholar Bruce V. Foltz summarizes this “double denaturing”: The first denaturing occurred through Christianity, whereby nature was ‘degraded’ to the status of ens creatum [created things], to being the effect of a first, self-caused cause and thus placed beneath the supernatural. The second and decisive denaturing, however, was brought about by modern natural science, which


Chapter 1 ‘dissolved nature into the orbit of the mathematical order of world-commerce, industrialization, and in a particular sense, machine-technology.’33

To be sure, the “denaturing” precedes Christianity: A “first denaturing” (or one of several first denaturings) is Hellenistic philosophy (characterized by ecodisastrous hierarchical dualisms like “body/soul”).34 Indeed, one may even speculate that, were it not for neoplatonism’s influence, Christianity may have been less degrading. Doubtlessly, ecological living does not entail an absolute refusal of instrumentality. One of the foremost critics of instrumentalism, ecophilosopher Val Plumwood, urges a moderate course of action, where consideration of others mediates utility: “What is required is that one be concerned with others [human and otherwise] for their own sake and that one’s ends make ineliminable reference to the ends of others, not that they be totally free of self” and that we should “take account of the interests or well-being of other species for their own sake.”35 Without this crucial consideration of others, our instrumentalism—combined with a complex range of interrelated cultural factors—undoubtedly fosters and exacerbates ecological violence. The qualifier “combined with a complex set of interrelated cultural factors” is a necessary qualification: The assumption or proposition that a specific factor is the sole or even dominant cause of the current ecological crisis is obviously reductive and simplistic. Nevertheless, the difficulty of the question does not entail its refusal, though it entails a call to vigilance—to approach the question carefully and to offer solutions tentatively. And so, if “creation” connotes the completed, static, instrumentalized, and violated handiwork of a creator who creates from nothing, why employ this problematic term? Part of the task of rethinking our perception of creation involves a refiguration of the word “creation.” As noted above, the word also provides certain advantages, particularly in terms of its expansiveness. Furthermore, this aporetics resounds theologically (which is not the same thing as being “a theology”)—hence, the utilization of this word registers this resonance. Finally, “creation” is a word we have been given/gifted: We begin (again) from wherever we are. There is the hope that the word’s embeddedness in this ecotheological reflection is transformed by it. “Creation” may be deformed and reformed—transfigured. Wor(l)ds are, after all, open to change.

Suspending Grace An attentiveness to materiality, combined with an insistence on keeping the question of the gift-giver as open as possible, entails a bracketing of—or only oblique encounters with—complex theological issues like noncorporeal gifts.



(Of course, a deferral of certain questions does not exclude the possibility that these questions nevertheless—and at the same time—play along the margins of the discourse.) Now, the indefinite article “a” in the title of this work, If Creation is a Gift, registers the recognition that material creation may be one of many possible gifts. I have already stressed that this inquiry focuses on the material world, but this focus is not a disguised inversion of the this-world/otherworld(s) binary. After all, one should not be so presumptuous as to insist that the material world is “all that is.” Such an insistence disguises an excessive empiricism, an excessive materialism. Today, we should not hierarchically privilege the visible and the actual over the invisible and the possible. However, my focus is on the material world: I therefore limit this study to a particular kind of gift—as encompassing as this gift apparently is (in other words, what-is). Creation is possibly one kind of gift. We cannot know whether it is the only gift. Hence, I reserve (rather than reverse or invert) the question of other-thancorporeal gifts. This reservation, combined with an openness toward the question of the identity of any cosmic gift-givers, contributes to the scant attention I pay to the question of grace in this work. But there are further reasons for this suspension, and their elaboration will further elucidate the nature of this aporetics. To begin with, this meditation turns on the notion that creation is ultimately mysterious, exceeding human comprehension. The insistence on creation’s mysteriousness doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to depend on another mystery (in this case, grace)—be it “prior” or “privileged.” I argue that creation eludes human mastery regardless of its status as graced or graceless. What-is does not require grace to amplify its mystery: The world is irreducibly perplexing as it is. Recalling grace risks blurring this insight. If the world is a gift, then it follows that this gift needs to be respected, cherished, held in awe—irrespective of whether it is graced or ungraced. I therefore attempt to contribute to the depiction of creation as a thing of mystery or excess via recourse to its possible giftness—rather than its possible graceness. I should also mention that, according to the task of emphasizing the excess of what-is, I bracket other ways creation may be reimbued with that which exceeds human comprehension—such as its possible sacramentality. Certainly, a subject like the Eucharistic bread and wine has become a powerful resource for postmodern theology.36 However, taking up this kind of reconfiguration potentially obscures what is at stake here: These things are not prized or privileged in the present context due to their transubstantiation, transignification, or transfinalization. Qualifying her remarks and nevertheless admiring the figures she names, McFague argues that: “The great theologians and poets of the Christian sacramental tradition, including Paul, John, Irenaeus, Augustine, the medieval mystics (such as Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen), Ger-


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ard Manley Hopkins, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, love the things of the world principally as expressions of divine beauty, sustenance, truth, and glory.”37 Note the word “principally”: McFague does not discount their appreciation of corporeality, but proposes with good reason that they (over)emphasize the divine aspect. Doubtlessly, this kind of critique does not automatically imply a denial of the possibility that other-than-material aspects mark the thing itself. (This keeping-open also corresponds to my earlier remarks regarding the recognition that a gift-thing can also be otherwise-than-gift.) However, in the context of this eco-aporetics, I focus on what it may mean for things-in-relation, such as bread and wine, to be perceived as gifts to their selves and to other creatures.38 To be sure, I undertake this investigation very much interested in how the Bible and Christian theology inscribe the gift. My critically selective affinity with the Bible registers in several ways in relation to a certain bracketing of the question of the grace-gift. First (and most basically), biblical statements seem to authorize the distinction between the corporeal and grace: They are differentiated by biblical authors. (Indeed, as the biblical survey in the following chapter illustrates, the grace-gift surpasses other gifts, particularly in terms of its radical gratuity.) What needs to be underlined here, therefore, is that the scriptural differentiation sanctions the nature/grace distinction. Since the Bible distinguishes between gifts, the bracketing of one kind of gift (grace) seems tenable. A second scripturally informed reason for deferring the question of grace is this: The biblical references to grace are deeply perplexing—perhaps more so than the vexing problem of the Bible’s multifarious material gifts (refer to chapter 2). Biblical authors do not analyze or interpret the grace-gift. Paul explicitly describes this kind of gift as indescribable: “Thanks be to God for his [sic] indescribable gift!” (1 Corinthians 9.15). One question that follows on from the notion of grace’s indescribability is whether one should nevertheless attempt to describe it. I pay heed to Paul’s evaluation and, considered together with other arguments presented here, thereby suspend any in-depth discussion about the nature of grace. After all, the question of the gift-aporia is overwhelming enough: To add the possibility and mystery of grace to this question would be to compound it considerably. Furthermore, grace’s indescribability may be extended to include the relation between grace and other-than-human nature. In other words, the question of grace is further complicated by the scriptural silence on the relation between creation and grace. One effect of the absence of explanation has been a hesitation on the part of commentators to elaborate on the nature-grace dynamic. The Catholic theologian Stephen J. Duffy notes that Protestant thinkers “were impressed by the reticence of the Scriptures on this issue [the nature/grace correlation].”39 It is difficult enough to reflect on the somewhat “obvious” (creation) without hypothesizing about other mysteries and their relations with each other.



A more pressing reason for deferring the question of the grace-gift is that it is overwhelmingly associated with the salvation of human beings. The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, defines the term in this way: “Grace (gratia, Charis), in general, is a supernatural gift of God to intellectual creatures (men [sic], angels) for their eternal salvation . . .”40 Christian thinkers have often made explicit the idea that the creation-gift is a secondary gift, that is, that supernatural gifts are superior to corporeal gifts. The German mystic John Tauler (1300– 1361), for example, proclaims: Even the smallest drop of grace is better than all earthly riches that are beneath the sun. Yes, a drop of grace is more noble than all angels and all souls, and all the natural things that God has made. And yet grace is given more richly by God to the soul than any earthly gift. It is given more richly than brooks of water, than the breath of the air, than the brightness of the sun; for spiritual things are far finer and nobler than earthly things.41

Yes, grace is deemed richer and finer than “brooks of water,” “the breath of the air,” and “the brightness of the sun.” This kind of hierarchical dualization of gifts is unacceptable from a radically ecotheological perspective—even though Tauler attributes a certain wealth and nobility to the water, sun, and air (which can’t be said of too many Christian theologians). Whatever richness is attributed to these corporeal things, they are nevertheless considered inferior to grace. Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) offers a similar dualistic sentiment when he professes: “Your Lord never thought this world’s vain painted glory a gift worthy of you; and therefore would not bestow it on you, because He is to propane [present/gift] you with a better portion. Let the movable go; the inheritance is yours.”42 This kind of thinking does not belong exclusively to pre-twentieth century theology. Like Tauler and Rutherford, Duffy himself argues for the primacy of grace: “Nature exists for grace; not vice versa.”43 According to this logic, the world-matrix is severely instrumentalized: It is valued because it is made-forsomething; creation exists for something else. Duffy hierarchically bifurcates gifts: He asserts humanity’s “elevation” when related to grace. This kind of prioritization belongs, in the final analysis, to a kind of thinking that degrades the corporeal and thereby does nothing to resist our anti-ecologicalism. To be sure, ecological and ecotheological thought does not—should not—demand an inversion of this hierarchy but something ultimately more radical, crucial, essential: the dissolution of this dualism. Why should the gracious gift be valued above the material gift? Why should there be a hierarchy? Of course, we could and should think of grace as permeating other-than-human nature, and this impor-


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tant task has been taken up by a number of thinkers.44 However, to focus on a question that has been historically saturated by anthropocentric concerns potentially disturbs the ecological momentum of this meditation. A concluding remark on the question of bifurcation may be offered by referring to the following instruction by Duffy: “Theology must speak of God as well as humans, of the theological as well as of the psychological, of grace as well as nature.”45 Duffy’s call is certainly valid, but one cannot deny that theology has not spoken enough about other-than-human nature: Indeed, when theologians have spoken of “nature,” they (we) have often spoken androanthropocentrically and antimaterially. I therefore concentrate on the oikos, whose gifting possibly involves the divine, rather than reflecting on those possible gifts that may possibly be divine (the Christ, Holy Spirit, grace, etc.). Having sketched some of the reasons for bracketing the question of grace, it will nevertheless have some sway in the following way. Chapter 2 treats the question of the gift as it arises in biblical texts and theology. Grace is therefore examined, particularly as it exemplifies the pure or perfect gift: Grace is the unconditional, unilateral gift par excellence. As I explain below, grace therefore becomes an important figure of the gift in its gratuity, and it may be contrasted with more conditional, bilateral gifts. Hence, the question of grace is certainly treated in this aporetics—but the meditation certainly does not revolve around the nature of grace (and of the relation between nature and grace) but is employed as a superlative example of the “pure” or “ideal” gift that is contrasted with the gift in its circularity.

Crisscrossing Ecotheology Within the space of this prolegomenon, the nature and limits of this work have been substantially elucidated. This aporetics is a hermeneutics: It treats all corporeal entities as gifts. It is thereby a kind of ontics: It deals with the matrix-ofthings. The reflection is also “theological” in a particular way, with its nuanced (open-ended and suspended) recognition of the possibility that a biblical deity cogifts creation, as well as its qualified treatment of the question of the gracegift. The work’s theological dimension, however, immediately raises a related question: In what ways does the present work converge with, and diverge from, the ever-growing and multifarious discipline of ecological theology? In other words, what are the correlations between the present work and ecotheology? After all, ecotheology—and, more broadly, ecospirituality—engage with the question of relations between the divine or sacred and creation: One would therefore expect certain overlappings—as well as deviations.



Ecotheology and the present study crisscross in several ways, as has already been evidenced in the preceding sections, with the citation of works by ecotheologians like Keller and McFague. Of course, only a brief treatment of the question of this relation and unrelation is possible: A detailed elucidation, one that would do justice to the variety and richness of ecotheological discourses and to the nuances of this aporetics, would divert us from the immediate task. Undoubtedly, the present work could only arise in the context of a growing body of ecological and ecospiritual discourse. (Indeed, the work of Charlene Spretnak, which is generally—and somewhat generalizingly—critical of postmodern theory, provided much of the impetus for the present work.)46 The meditation explicitly draws on a relatively small but impressive set of innovative ecotheological texts, including Moltmann’s God in Creation, Mark I. Wallace’s Fragments of the Spirit, Keller’s Face of the Deep, McDaniel’s Earth, Sky, Gods, and Mortals, Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Gaia and God, and McFague’s The Body of God. These texts traverse the ecotheological “divisions” schematized in Ruether’s Gaia and God, for there is certainly overlap: The works of Moltmann and Wallace highlight creation-centered spirituality; Keller’s and McDaniel’s texts exemplify process thought; and ecological feminism marks the texts of Keller, Ruether, and, less explicitly, McFague.47 Henceforth, I highlight some of the ways in which our respective paths intersect. As I noted above, this investigation advances according to a radically ecumenical context. The only requirement is a belief in, or perception of, creation as a gift. However, a first and fundamental correlation between these authors and my own work is the Christian faith and traditions we share and refigure. To begin with, I believe in a biblical deity insofar as this God resonates with the charitable, progressive, emancipatory elements of Judeo-Christianity. Hence, my faith assumptions (explicit and otherwise) are informed by a kind of “selective” faith. Like several of the named authors, I share an interest in subversive and liberating aspects of biblical texts that challenge totalizing tendencies in theology and philosophy. And so, the present aporetics is certainly not bound by ecclesiastical doctrines. Now, the ecotheological texts cited here maintain various levels of fidelity to the Bible, the churches, and mainstream theology. First of all, several of these texts maintain an explicitly profound relationship with biblical writings. This is most obviously the case with the work of Keller and Wallace, and, to a lesser extent, Ruether. McFague, however, places more distance between her work and the Bible. As for the relation between ecotheology and classical theology, some ecotheologians are more bound than others. With regard to ex nihilo, Moltmann’s work—as radical as it is—stays loyal to church teachings on ex nihilo; he makes no room for the possibility of cocreation. Ruether identifies this teach-


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ing as a theological “dogma.” As I noted above, Keller’s work on the tehom seriously challenges this fundamental theological doctrine (which is characteristic of process theology in general). McDaniel, another process thinker, also characterizes God as a cocreator. Ecotheological negotiations of another dogma, the doctrine of the Trinity, focus on its “immanence-friendly” personae: The “cosmic Christ” is an important ecotheological motif. However, one of the most significant ecotheological movements gaining sway involves engagements with the question of the Spirit. Moltmann teaches: “Creation in the Spirit is the theological concept which corresponds best to the ecological doctrine of creation which we are looking for and need today.”48 Wallace’s Fragments of the Spirit is an ecopneumatology drawn from the Spirit’s biblical nature-figurations (breath, wind, water, dove). McFague depicts God as the ruach of the body of creation. It is also worth mentioning here that all of these remarkable texts are panentheistic, which appears to be the most credible ecoposition theologians may hold: Traditional theism overemphasizes transcendence, while pantheism reduces the divine to a strict immanence; panentheism, on the other hand, traverses the two dimensions without resting in either polarity.49 Now, while this ecomeditation certainly welcomes these important renegotiations of doctrinal Christianity, they lie beyond the present work’s scope: I attempt to shed light on the question of right relations with creation by dwelling upon the gift-aporia rather than reinterpreting foundational scriptural and theological figurations. But this work has certainly been influenced by, among other things, ecotheology’s attentiveness toward, and insistence upon, relationality. Moltmann utilizes striking (and erotic) theological concepts like perichoresis and “mutual interpenetration” to stress this divine-corporeal relationality. McDaniel argues against a variety of atomisms (molecular, anthropological, spiritual). Strikingly (from the perspective of orthodoxy’s belief in divine omnipotence), he even proposes an interdependency between God and creation: “God also depends on us.”50 In a similar key, Keller refers to the arresting notion of “interindebtedness,” where all things depend on each other. But these thinkers do not slide into a hyperrelationalism, where any and all individuation is swamped by relation: They skillfully balance their emphases on relationality with their recognitions of singularity. Interestingly, McFague—who constantly emphasizes creation’s interconnectedness—argues that interdependence also produces radical cosmological individuality and diversity. Likewise, the present work attempts to reflect the tension between creation’s interconnectedness and individuation (by promoting the gift’s circularity and linearity, respectively). The radical eco-egalitarianism espoused in the present work perhaps exceeds the egalitarianism espoused by ecotheology, at least in terms of an explicit



and—as I have already outlined (and will elucidate below)—a qualified embrace of the humanly produced. The ecotheological texts utilized here do not explicitly affirm manufactured things. For instance, McDaniel’s text moves in two directions: He emphasizes humans, animals, and plants, to the ostensible exclusion of the abiotic, and yet he also seems to base inherent value on the “aliveness” of all things, and, while he affirms that rocks are “alive” in some sense, this aliveness is not overtly extended to products.51 Ruether’s “biophilia” also extends beyond the biotic to include the abiotic, which prevents her text from becoming narrowly biocentric, but this biophilia is not explicitly extended to techne¯. Likewise, when McFague argues that “no absolute distinction exists between the living and the nonliving,” she does not explicitly include the humanly constructed.52 Wallace’s text also does not overtly embrace cultural products. Moltmann’s text is the least biocentric for, as Wallace points out, the ecologically powerful God in Creation is still informed by a theological anthropocentrism. Whatever degrees of biocentrism these ecotheological texts express —and whether or not their biocentrism implies a radical ecodemocratism—an explicit recognition of, and respect for, the techne¯ of humans and other-thanhuman creatures is explicitly advanced in the present work. As well as our shared or similar faiths and theological dispositions, a recognition of relationality and singularity, and a certain agreement on the intrinsic value of things, another common theme is our passion for material creation. The authors share a love for what-is, often expressed in terms of the depiction of creation as home. Both ecotheology and this eco/theo/logical aporetics share a love of this oikos—creation.

Other Prolegomena The present work conjoins a thinking of creation with the gift-aporia to produce a meditation of what-is. Some further preliminary remarks are warranted in light of this pairing. They relate to (1) the question of two kinds of gifts; (2) the relationality of gifting; and (3) whether/how this aporetics is an “aesthetics.” First of all, the gift-aporia may be considered along two differentiated but ultimately interrelated paths. Derrida explains: “There would be, on the one hand, the gift that gives something determinate (a given, a present in whatever form it may be, . . . ‘natural’ or symbolic thing . . .) and, on the other hand, the gift that gives not a given but the condition of a present given in general . . .”53 Caputo offers an excellent elucidation of this gift that is otherwise than ontico-ontological; he explains that this gift relates to “how things ‘come.’”54 This gift may be figured as différance or kho ¯ra. Caputo argues that, owing to its anonymous,


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quasi-transcendental, presubjective, disseminative, uncontrollable and improper nonnature, this gift differs from a traditional gift-giving deity: “Events happen in différance not from (par) a spirit of generosity, but with generosity (Given Time, 162), that is to say, with a profusion and abundance that is the issue not of a subject’s generosity but of a certain disseminative process.”55 Doubtlessly, a meditation on this kind of gift would prove insightful on several levels— especially in relation to Keller’s casting of the tehom in terms of différance, and so there may be an ecotheological opening for a meditation on this kho ¯ral gift. Nevertheless, what is attempted here is a rethinking of things-as-gifts rather than the gift(s) that provide the condition for ontic gifting. Certainly, the “what” of creation is indelibly interrelated with its “how.” Nevertheless, as emphasized above, the present focus lies with gift-things. Due to the attention paid to the creation-gift, the question of the quasi-transcendental gift is suspended here. The suspension of the issue of “how things come” in their quasi-transcendentality correlates to the bracketing of the question of the “who-what” of cocreativity. In other words, the suspension of the question of what/who else cocreates creation coincides with a suspension of the question of what/who else gifts creation (assuming the possibility of a relation between the two). Hence, the questions of cocreators and co-gift-givers is somewhat bracketed while I primarily reflect on creation itself. Nevertheless (for this question is “suspended” in both senses), it is worth noting here how the above discussion on divine creativity may be thought in terms of the gift-aporia. The gift is an aporia because it seems to be marked by both unilaterality (unconditionality, gratuity) and bi(multi)laterality (conditionality, reciprocity). The notion of creation-fromnothing would therefore reflect the aspect of one-way gifting, while a relational figuring of creativity reflects gifting’s circularity. Hence, a certain retention of the tension between the ex nihilo and its other also mirrors the tension in and of the gift itself. The act of not-choosing reflects (once again) the aporeticity of the creation-gift. However, the retention of the possibility of the ex nihilo should not be misconstrued as a bias toward unilaterality and singularity. I noted above that “creation” implies here a relational creation. Gifting also implies relationality, for this act involves the gratuitous giving of something by someone to someone; gifting, by definition, is a gifting-from and a gifting-to. Thoroughly relational. But since we are considering the creation-gift, my focus is on the gift’s reception, the gifting-to; I focus, in particular, on humans as gift-recipients. This emphasis is ethically driven: My intention is to interpret every thing that we humans encounter as a gift (including our selves and all others), and to indicate ways in which our responses to gift-things reflect and respect the gift in all its aporeticity. Hence, the investigation focuses on the given gift and how it may be received (and reciprocated) by us.



Due to the egalitarian character of this reflection, the gift and its gifting is not here restricted to humans: Givers and receivers include the possibility of other-than-human beings. All beings are here figured as gifting and having gifted their selves to themselves and each other. An immediate objection arises: For a gift to be gift, it must be identified as such. There should be an intention to give. It therefore seems presumptuous (and perhaps a little “ludicrous”) to propose that other-than-human creatures perceive creation-things in their giftness. First of all, we should not discount this possibility—even though it may seem unlikely. (Who can know whether the intentionality, identification, and excess related to gifting is restricted to the human domain.) Moreover, this powerful objection is ultimately irrelevant: Human beings account for the violation of creation, and so this study is directed to humans. What counts is that we humans perceive, receive, and respond to creation in ecological terms, and this aporetics attempts to contribute to this radical transfiguration of our figurations and actions. The promotion of a radically ecological egalitarianism opens onto a further query: If the following work attempts to think through the figuring of every pragma-in-relation as gift, does this entail that it seeks to beautify or aestheticize every thing? In other words, is this aporetics an aesthetics? It is not an “aesthetics” in the conventional sense, which has to do with the beautiful. Of course, such a (mis)reading may be expected and even welcomed: The term “gift” certainly resonates with that which is beautiful, special, precious, artistic, or talented (“gifted”). One cannot deny the fact that the word “gift” is, to reconfigure Hopkins’s phrase, “charg’d” with a certain “grandeur,” and that this word is linked to special acts and things: “the gift of nature,” “the gift of life,” “the gift of friendship,” etc. Humans also cherish gift-giving festivals like birthdays, Christmas, and so on. Indeed, it is precisely because “gifting” is such a powerful concept and phenomenon that it warrants the kind of investigation undertaken here. The gift is both paradoxical (gratuitous, reciprocal) and prestigious (special, high-profile). The gift moves us. But this aporetics transgresses and even makes redundant “aesthetics” in its conventional sense by virtue of its radical democratism: By treating all things as gifts, one is faced with the possibility that all entities may be conceived or perceived as beautiful, special, or precious, or, alternatively (and perhaps more radically), that no phenomenon secures a place of privilege. Hierarchical binaries like beautiful/ugly, special/banal, outstanding/mediocre, significant/trivial, and unique/widespread lose their relevance and descriptive force in the context of a radical rethinking of the creation-gift: If creation is a gift, “gift” would “also” denote the most “banal” or “ugly” thing—banal or ugly to us humans who do not see every thing as gift. In the midst of a radical egalitarianism, the term “special” applies to all things—and in some sense loses its “special” place in our lex-


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icon. Likewise (as I noted above), a radical democratism dislodges the distinction between nature and culture. The polarity phusis/techne¯ becomes irrelevant in this context: Human art works (whether “good” or “bad”) cannot be privileged in this hermeneutical context. What counts here is that all things— whether the sky, a skyscraper, or a painting of the sky and skyscraper—are perceived as gifts. Now, it seems very odd (and even scandalous) to suggest that every thing—from a flower in bloom to the fork on one’s plate—is a gift and therefore “beautiful” in some sense, but it is only a scandal for aesthetic sensibilities fundamentally restricted by our binarism and instrumentalism, as well as our world-weariness and absentmindedness. The creation-gift’s already-thereness obscures our capacity to perceive it as gift. (By contrast, the gift of art is more discernible as something-which-arises, even though, as we mentioned above, creation is not purely and simply enduring but also—and first of all—auto/ poie¯ticizing.) The ubiquity of things obscures their grandeur. Together with our all-pervasive instrumentalism, world-weariness and absentminded attitudes blur the splendor of every thing that is, obscuring the fact that a thing is morethan and otherwise-than a utility. When we pick up a fork or a glass, do we ever consider them as otherwise than as a fork or a glass? How often—if ever—do we consider the things around us (as well as our selves) as gifts? And so, this aporetics may therefore be considered a most radical aesthetics—but an aesthetics that reflects the original meaning of the word from which it derives: Aisthe¯te¯s denotes “a person who perceives,” and “aesthetics” originally implied a theory of sensory perception or embodied responsiveness to things. Awakening or renewing a certain kind of sensitive Earth-friendly perception, reception, and reaction—such is the aim of the present hermeneutic, which may occur when we consider creation a (possible) gift.


A Brief History of Gifts


he present work is an extended meditation on the gift’s aporeticity, and what the duality of the donum may mean ecologically and ecotheologically—that is, if creation is a gift perhaps cogifted by a deity. An appropriate starting point would therefore be the broader context of the ways in which the gift has been figured in the Bible and in Christian theology, for therein one finds traces of the gift’s paradoxicality, confirming a Derridean aporetics of the gift. A retracing of this broader context thereby acts as an appropriate site to begin the process of extending a paradoxical thinking of gifting in an ecotheological direction. The present chapter may therefore be described as a kind of “history” or retracing of this aporeticity in Christian texts. Some introductory remarks will clarify the nature of this retracing. First, it is intended as an overview: The crux of the present work lies in the latemodern thinking of gifting and its development in an ecotheological direction, and so the retracing of the Bible and theology is necessarily broad and introductory. Second, the study basically restricts itself to Judeo-Christian texts, beginning with biblical writings. Third, only those texts in extant theology that explicitly refer to the word “gift” with even a slight mark of reflection are registered here. It should also be noted that I do not aim for a thoroughgoing etymological or exegetical analysis, nor am I entering into the labyrinthine questions of translation, context, and so on. Meticulous textual analyses would divert us from our aim; what is being identified is the word “gift,” its various meanings, and the ways in which the term has been taken up by those who have taken the time to meditate on it. In other words, I take the texts at their word. Such measures are necessary: The following retracing traces a specific term over an immense intertextual landscape. However, the brevity of the following history is also governed by the fact that the question of the other-than-grace-gift rarely arises in the history of theology. This is surprising, given the religious resonance of the word “gift,” and, by extension, the axiomatic nature of the idea of creation as a divine gift. After all, would any Christian deny the notion of creation as a donum Dei? If God is 31


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God, then surely one would expect that God gifts or cogifts what-is. It would be difficult to identify another Christian axiom that equals the conceptual status— simultaneously assumed yet basically unquestioned—that appears to have marked the idea of creation as divinely gifted. This idea or revelation has been taken for granted but not given to thought—at least not thoroughly thought through or handed over to a thoroughgoing questioning. In light of the axiomatic nature of this idea and possibility, speculation is warranted, if not “productive.” Perhaps Western theology has considered the idea of the gift and the creation-gift too transparent, obvious, or self-evident for contemplation. Perhaps this idea has thereby been considered barren in terms of its possibilities and implications. Perhaps we have even supposed that this maxim doesn’t deserve the “degradation” of being offered as a question. Perhaps. Obviously, Christianity ceaselessly generates ideas awaiting investigation. Perhaps Christian thought has been caught up with more vexing concerns—like the establishment and policing of orthodoxies and counterorthodoxies. In sum, one is left with this question: Why has the intersection between the “gift” and “creation” appeared to be a rather desolate site for intellectual inspiration, reflection, and contestation? One can only wonder why theology has only rarely considered this axiom. But the time has come, particularly in an epoch of accelerating environmental degradation, to pose or re-pose this notion as a question—and an opening. While few Christian thinkers have attended to the notion of the (creation-)gift as a question, it is necessary to ask how those who have breached the assumption, by broaching it as a question, have made their approach. What is required is an attempt to trace the kind of theological reflection that has devoted itself to thinking this possibility. This retracing has a dual function. Positively: Delineating the when-and-how of those moments in which the notion has been taken on as an issue. Negatively: Suggesting that the idea of the creation-gift remained (and remains) an assumption—or worse—unthought or forgotten.

The Bible’s Un/Conditional Gifts To begin with, how is the word “gift” figured in biblical texts? It is an astonishing scriptural example of a word saturated in plurivocity. Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible identifies twenty-one variant meanings.1 I cite here some of the most diverse semantic categories assembled under the rubric of “gift.” The Concordance provides the following classifications: gift as reward (eshkar, e.g., Psalm 72.10); as offering (minchah, e.g., 2 Samuel 8.2); as bribe (terumah, Proverbs

A Brief History of Gifts


29.4); as impure gift (nedeh, Ezekiel 16.33); as desired gift (doma, e.g., Matthew 7.11); the act of gifting (dosis, e.g., James 1.17); the specifically material gift (doron, Revelations 11.10); and variations of the “free gift” denoting a spiritual gift (dorea, Acts 2.38; Ephesians 3.7; dorema, Romans 5.16) or grace (charisma, e.g., Romans 1.11). In sum: Sometimes the “gift” is identified as thoroughly conditional (such as a bribe or sacrifice) and sometimes as unconditional (such as grace). Hence, one is faced with a dilemma: Biblically, the term “gift” is so semantically diverse it seems to defy definition. If so, how can one gather these apparently disparate and contradictory meanings under the name “gift”? At the risk of homogenization (which nevertheless discloses the gift’s heterogeneity), it is therefore necessary to narrow this broad semantic field provisionally in the following way: In light of the widely accepted definition of the gift (a freely given thing identified as such), the following retracing is thematized according to the notions of conditional (linear, gratuitous) and unconditional (circular, exchanged) gifts. I turn to specific texts in order to illustrate these categories of the gift. The most striking characteristic of “gift” as presented in the JudeoChristian scriptures is the group of gifts that may be gathered under the heading “conditional”: offerings, bribes, rewards, etc. This feature is striking because (today, at least) we ordinarily identify a gift as that which is given unconditionally or freely; hence, the contradictoriness of conditional gifts. According to a Derridean reading of gifting, sacrificial and almsgiving gifts are rendered manifestly problematic, for such gifts are premised on the generation of an exchange, such as a benefit, protection, security, and so on; chance (and) encounter are denied by the regularity of sacrifice and almsgiving. As Derrida notes, almsgiving “becomes prescribed, programmed, obligated, in other words bound. And a gift must not be bound, in its purity, nor even binding, obligatory or obliging”— and Derrida immediately mentions religion and the religious here, identifying religiosity with binding, for the Latin word religare means “to bind.”2 What are some of the more remarkable scriptural examples of conditional gifts? In Deuteronomy 16.17, the command is given: “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD [Yahweh] your God has blessed you.”3 And the following command is given in Ezekiel 20.40: “For on my holy mountain . . . I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts.”4 Consider the vocabulary of force and condition: “must,” “proportion,” “require.” Ezekiel also identifies a relationship between certain acts of gifting with bribery and defilement; speaking for Yahweh, he proclaims: “Gifts are given to all whores; but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from all around for your whorings” (Ezekiel 16.33). On behalf of God, Ezekiel proclaims: “When you offer your gifts . . . you defile yourselves” and “my holy


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name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols” (Ezekiel 20.31; 20.39c). Isaiah also connects the bribe with the gift: “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts” (Isaiah 1.23). A more seductive bribery is evidenced in Psalm 45.12: “The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts.” Conditional gifts are not limited to the First Testament. The Matthean Jesus upholds the notion of compelling gifts: “Offer the gift that Moses commanded” (Matthew 8.4c). When Paul thanks the Philippians for their generous gifting, he explains: “I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent . . .” (Philippians 4.18). This verse is constituted by the language of economic exchange: Having been “paid in full,” satisfaction registers upon receipt of the gifts. The Philippians’ gifts have balanced an account: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account” (Philippians 4.17). The Philippians’ generosity toward an apostle of Christ seems to be earning them credit in heaven. To be sure, some gifts are more demanding than others, but all the cases of gifts cited here—and there are more—are conditional: The gift is owed, expected, demanded, or rewarded. In stark contradistinction, there are also biblical instances of the unconditional gift—the idealistic or perfect conceptualization of “gift” that is prevalent today. This kind of unambiguously unconditional gifting occurs very rarely in the First Testament. Esther 2.18 refers to an instance of gifting that comes very close to pure gratuity: We are told that King Ahasuerus “gave gifts with royal liberality” to his people upon his marriage to Esther. There is a “cause” (the wedding), but the monarch’s gifting seems largely unmotivated by the kinds of economic self-interest noted above. Now, gifting between subjects is probably always self-interested in some sense; however, one may perhaps retain the distinction between an abundantly generous giving—a munificent giving, perhaps like King Ahasuerus’s—and gifting in order to gain (gift-as-bribe, gift-asreward, etc.). Now, despite a text like Esther 2.18, the Hebrew scriptures overwhelmingly portray calculating kinds of gifts—gifts without the kind of abandon or impulse that marks the “gift” as we tend to conceive it. We are reminded here of the possibility of cultural differences; J. A. Selbie suggests: “One did not come before prophet or king or God with empty hands. The English words ‘gift’ and ‘present’ are apt, indeed, to convey an idea of spontaneity about the transaction which was generally absent.”5 This comment elicits the following line of speculation: The phrase “generally absent” is suggestive insofar as there remains the possibility of a more gracious gifting in ancient times and places—albeit a rarer, unexpected gifting. Whatever the case may be, what is clear is that spontaneous gifting emerges more clearly in the Christian scriptures. While the First Testa-

A Brief History of Gifts


ment rarely figures unconditional gifts, the Second Testament conveys the idea of an unconditional gift, the gift of grace, as a prominent motif throughout the writings. For example, Paul declares: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift from God—not the result from works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2.8–9). Here the gift is not tied to the receiver’s enterprise. Indeed, grace if given in spite of the recipient’s unworthiness. However (and herein lies the conundrum of the gift), texts promoting unconditional human gifting nevertheless seem to entangle themselves in the gift’s circularity. For instance, on the one hand, the Christic logic in Luke overturns the notion of gifting in strictly reciprocal and equivalent terms: “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? . . . But love your enemies, do good, and lend [gift], expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6.34–35a).6 Nevertheless, this subversive logic immediately reverts to an economic rationale, for this kind of giving nevertheless earns divine credit: “Your reward will be great . . .” (Luke 6.35b). Despite the reversion to calculation, one still glimpses the “mad” logic of unidirectional gifting. Another example of this subversion-and-reversion is found in Luke 14.12–14: “He [Jesus] said also to the one who had invited him [to a Sabbath meal], ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” A text that most aptly captures the aporeticity of gifting is Chapter 9 of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, because it clearly conveys the diverging elements of conditionality and spontaneity; 2 Corinthians 9.5 reads: “I thought it necessary to urge the brothers [sic] to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.” Paul hopes for a voluntary gift: a present given freely, without coercion. But this hope is bound to a lexicon of necessitation, sway, arrangement, and of holding the Corinthians to their promise. The freedom of the gift is bound up. Contradictoriness marks the verses that follow: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9.6–7). Paul understandably privileges the cheerful and generous gift-giver, but this privilege is destabilized in light of: (1) injunction—the Corinthians are commanded to be generous; each of them/ us “must give”; (2) calculation—they/we must “make up our minds,” especially


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when we take into consideration God’s love of a “cheerful giver”; and (3) reward: generosity’s harvest is bountiful. Despite Paul’s plea for freeing up the gift, he encourages a now-classic economic formula: reaping what is sown. Thus far I have retraced the multifarious gifts of the Bible. However, one gift seems to be starkly lacking—a pronounced lack in light of the present work: the creation-gift itself. Doesn’t the Bible ever figure what-is as a gift? Surprisingly, there seems to be no explicit coupling of the terms “gift” and “creation” in biblical writings. (And perhaps this lack may help to explain the considerable absence of theological reflection over the creation-gift.) Of course, certain passages may perhaps be construed as intimating or indicating a correlation between gifting and creation, such as the biblical “giving” in Genesis 1.29–30 or Deuteronomy 6.10–11. But these givings are semantically different from “gifting.” Nevertheless, hermeneuts have attempted to connect the two. The biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, for example, interprets Deuteronomy 6.10 (-11) as a text that figures the land as God’s gift: He refers to that passage as one marked by a “rhetoric” of “pure gift, radical grace.”7 But the text itself does not figure the land as a gift (pure or impure): “And when Yahweh your God brings you into the land which he [sic] swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you . . .” The exegete practices a hermeneutical leap from a divine giving to an unconditional gifting. As for the Second Testament, pure gifting certainly appears in the form of “grace.” Nonetheless (and once again), any pairing between the two terms would be somewhat contrived. In sum, the Bible does not explicitly figure a relation between “gift” and “creation.” To be sure, the observation that “gift” and “creation” is not explicitly linked by Christianity’s foundational text is all the more remarkable insofar as the connection is made, albeit rarely, by Christian thinkers and believers over the centuries. Indeed, this connection has become so ingrained that the thought of creation as a divine gift is a theological given.

The Gifts of Pre-Twentieth-Century Theology The above survey of biblical texts illustrates that these writings are certainly fertile ground in terms of references to gifts. But the Bible does not take up or treat the question of the gift in any apparently philosophical or theological way. As the Bible is not a site for explicitly thinking gifting in any reflective or sustained way, when and how does theology traditionally think it? (In order to negotiate this question, the act of retracing continues along the lines established above.) A number of theologians preserve the circularity of the gift—even when the gift is grace. John Chrysostom (347–407 CE) rhetorically asks: “What then can it be

A Brief History of Gifts


but extreme senselessness . . . not even to give a return for a free gift. . . . [W]e ought to feel bound to Him [God; sic]. . . . Now when His gifts are so great, and His demands exceedingly easy, and we do not supply even these; what deep of hell must we not deserve? . . . Having . . . calculated what we have received, what we are to receive, what is required of us, let us show forth all our diligence on the things spiritual.”8 The gift is here explicitly implicated in exchange economy (returning the free gift with a counter-gift). Note, too, the aggressively economic language: “bound,” “demands,” “calculated,” and so on. Another remark by Chrystostom promotes this kind of stringent payback, a logic that seems to counter the subversive Christic call for an uncalculating gifting: “A gift is not given to those who are hated, but to friends and those who have been well-pleasing . . .”9 According to this logic, the gift rewards friendship; the gift rewards the gift of friendship. Thomas Bunyan (1628–1688) notes the gift’s condition of obligation when it comes to the gift of the “fear of the Lord”: “Great gifts naturally tend to oblige,” and “this fear of God teaches a man to put a due estimation upon every gift of God bestowed upon us . . .”10 Unfortunately, Bunyan does not explain the qualifying phrase “naturally tend to”; whatever thoughts he has about this natural tendency of the gift to oblige (and I return to his thoughts on the gift in due course), Bunyan clearly registers the gift’s propensity to oblige—even though the gift is, by definition, that which wouldn’t oblige. Andrew Murray (1828–1917) conveys three conventional (and heterogeneous) characteristics of the gift—enjoyment of the gift, the gift as sacrifice, and the return of the gift—in his own writings: “People say, ‘Does not God give us all good gifts to enjoy?’ But do you know that the reality of the enjoyment is in the giving back? Just look at Jesus—God gave Him a wonderful body. He kept it holy and gave it as a sacrifice to God. This is the beauty of having a body. God has given you a soul; this is the beauty of having a soul—you can give it back to God.”11 Not only does this passage reinforce the notion that a gift should be returned, but it also (and very interestingly) attempts to figure enjoyment bilaterally: One only superficially enjoys the gift by taking it; the “real” enjoyment comes with its return. Perhaps Murray is wary of the risk of enjoyment as a pure—and selfish?—receiving, a risk amplified in an age where the ecological crisis and egoistic individualism have intensified. (The relation between enjoyment and ecology is discussed in chapter 4.) Also observe Murray’s instrumentalism (which is more problematic): The body and “soul” are beautiful insofar as they can be returned. The body and soul are not enjoyed per se but because they are gift-sacrifices that return to their Sender. Perhaps inspired by discourses on grace, theologians began to reflect on the gratuity of divine gifting, and thereby corporeal gift exchange seems to have


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begun to sit uneasily in the context of divine economy: One finds moments in which the gift-as-sacrifice (or offering/bribe/etc.) is questioned and criticized. Irenaeus (second century) encourages oblation-gifts but immediately qualifies this directive by stating: “Not that He [God] stands in need of a sacrifice from us . . .”12 Assuming divine gratuity and independence, Tatian the Assyrian (110–172 CE) provides a harsher criticism of religious gifting: “Nor even ought the ineffable God to be presented with gifts; for He who is in want of nothing is not to be misrepresented by us as though He were indigent.”13 Reciprocity is here cast in terms of blasphemy. Minucius Felix (third century) rhetorically asks: “Shall I offer victims and sacrifices to the Lord, such as He has produced for my use, that I should throw back to Him His own gift?”14 Arnobius (284–305 CE) also questions the economy of gifting as it relates to divinity (and also refers to “forgiving”—an issue examined below): “For this belongs specially to deities, to be generous in forgiving, and to seek no return for their gifts.”15 Even Chrysostom, who, on the one hand, insists on returning the grace-gift, separates Christian gifting from the “Judaical grossness” of animal sacrifice.16 Such statements outline and promote a human gifting that may reflect the presumed unconditionality of divine gifting. While the conditional gift received criticism, the gratuitous gift gained in prestige. The presumed unconditionality of divine gifting provided inspiration for corporeal gifting. Inspired by Christic generosity, Irenaeus urges us “not merely to be liberal givers and bestowers, but even that we should present a gratuitous gift to those who take away our goods. . . . And from him that takes away your goods, ask them not again.’ “17 In the anonymously written The Pastor of Hermas (second century CE), we are also encouraged to “Give to all, for God wishes His gifts to be shared amongst all. . . . not hesitating as to whom he should give and to whom he should not give.”18 Human gifting is encouraged to imitate the liberality and indiscriminateness of divine gifting. The astutely realistic Tertullian (155–225 CE) stipulates the (purported) difference between human and divine gifting: “Now there is no one who, when bestowing a gift on another, does not act with a view to his own interest or the other’s. This conduct, however, cannot be worthy of the Divine Being . . .”19 For Tertullian, unconditional gifting is possible for the deity but impossible for humans. Nevertheless, in the effort to strive for a more divine-like gifting, Tertullian resists the strictly circular gift: “On the monthly day, if he [the member of the church] likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.”20 Echoing Paul but with a more nuanced approach, Tertullian stresses a voluntary gifting in order to exceed or surpass its circularity. Recalling Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) claims that “a gift is ‘an unreturnable giving’ . . .”21 If a gift is by its very nature “unreturnable,” it thereby

A Brief History of Gifts


defies circularity. Nevertheless, Aquinas is also realistic when considering the possibility that divine gifting defies the conditionality marking human gifting: “But to give, not from any advantage expected from the gift, but out of sheer goodness and the fitness of giving, is an act of Liberality. God therefore is in the highest degree liberal; and, as Avicenna says, He alone can properly be called liberal: for every other agent but Him is in the way of gaining something by his action and intends so to gain.”22 Like Tertullian, Aquinas is suspicious of the possibility of unconditional gifting; however, the purity of such gifting has surely influenced the way we perceive and perform gifting today: We expect the gift to be given “out of sheer goodness.” The Aristotelian-Thomist notion of unreturnability is also expressed in the thought of Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Mothe Guyon (a.k.a. Madame Guyon) (1647–1717). Writing in relation to dedicating one’s life to God, Guyon offers the following reminder: “Remember, a gift once presented, is no longer at the disposal of the donor. Abandonment is a matter of the greatest importance . . .”23 The idea of unreturnability belongs to the category of theological moments that move away from the circular gifting exemplified in the First Testament: Le don should not return; it should be abandoned. In sum, pre-twentieth-century theology sometimes refers to the gift’s circularity (e.g., Bunyan, Murray); sometimes the gift is figured in terms of its gratuity and linearity (e.g., Tatian, Felix, Arnobius, Aquinas, Guyon); and, sometimes, theologians refer to both aspects (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian, Chrysostom). Nevertheless, Christian thought did not explicitly reflect on the aporeticity of the gift that generates these divergent renderings, even though theology differentiates between divine gratuity and human self-interest. In the twentieth century, however, the gift finally began to be more explicitly and more deeply thought in terms of its duality.

Schmitz on Gifts and Presents The above overview of the most important moments in the history of extant theology in relation to gifts other than grace not only locates the theological allusions to conditional and unconditional gifting, but also intimates the (surprising) lack of sustained attention by theology toward this question. This issue certainly attracted much more attention in the twentieth century, particularly with the appearance of Marcel Mauss’s The Gift (c. 1924): That monumental anthropological work would spur on a variety of studies, including Derrida’s philosophical investigation.24 The burgeoning interest in the gift also found expression in Christian theology. Three of the most important Christian thinkers of gifting are Schmitz, Webb, and Marion. How do they broach the gift-aporia? Do they negotiate its tension between excess and exchange? If so, how?


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Schmitz’s The Gift is a very rare thing: a diminutive but scholarly theological work explicitly devoted to the question of creation-as-gift. While Schmitz’s text precedes Given Time, it is marked by a certain awareness of the paradoxicality of the gift and impressively engages with its tension. Schmitz identifies gratuity as a first feature of the gift. Arguing against any ground or condition for the gift, the author declares: “The gift is not as such a remedy for some lack, but is rather an unexpected surplus that comes without prior conditions set by the recipient. The element of gratuity indicates that there is no ground in the recipient for this gift, so that the gift is strictly uncalled for.”25 Elsewhere, Schmitz states: “It [the gift] is a free endowment upon another who receives it freely; so that the first mark of a gift is its gratuity.”26 Further on, he concludes that “A gift, then, qua gift does not call for an ‘adequate return.’” But Schmitz immediately acknowledges that the perfect gift falls short according to lived experience: “Of course, we ought not expect to find in the concrete and actual human situation pure interactions of giving and receiving unmixed with other qualities and intentions. The line between a gift and a transaction . . . is eidetically clear enough, but it is not always clear in life itself, nor should we expect it to be.”27 In this passage, Schmitz seems to be quite untroubled by the gift’s tension. Nonetheless, throughout the text, he oscillates between downplaying and pronouncing the entwinement of the unconditional gift with exchange economy. Schmitz announces: “We have often given a ‘gift’ because it was expected. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this . . .”28 Note the expression “of course”—which is also employed in the previous citation: While this phrase ostensibly expresses a certain expectedness, casualness, and offhandedness, perhaps it also attempts to conceal a certain anxiety or tension. The entangling nature of the gift-aporia may also be discerned in the following remark: “It is important to remember that there is nothing wrong with the interchange of presents out of mixed motives, for such exchange may well make smooth the pathways of interpersonal, social and even commercial relations. Moreover, not all gifts have to be accepted, anymore than they have to be given. But, if a gift is to reach its maturity, true to type, then it needs to be received with gratitude and not compensated for by a return gift.”29 While there may be “nothing wrong” with expected gifts and gift-exchanges, don’t such things nevertheless seem strange? By employing the phrase “nothing wrong” (like the phrase “of course”), isn’t Schmitz trying to downplay the troubling notion of expected gifts? The entanglement deepens: “For all that has just been said, nothing is more customary, of course, than the exchange of gifts.”30 “For all that has just been said”—this is the crux of the aporia: No matter what is said about the gift, discourse can never assuage the tension or play between the gift’s polarities.

A Brief History of Gifts


Despite his apparent acceptance and approval of the economic dimension to the gift, Schmitz nevertheless realizes that this aspect is “not without danger,” recognizing “the ease with which innocent ‘gifts’ imperceptibly move along a line towards bribery and coercion.”31 The author realizes that the gift may “entrap”; for the gift-giver, the gift may be rejected; and the gift itself (material or symbolic) has an “opacity” (a kind of excess) about it which may alter the relationship between gift-giver and receiver.32 Regarding the material gift’s opacity, Schmitz explains: “For a material thing is not transparent; it is opaque, and that opacity may hide as much or more than it reveals of the intentions of the giver. Its independent substance may contain an unforeseen chain of possible consequents.”33 At this stage, let us merely note and admire Schmitz’s confirmation of the gift-thing’s nontransparency (or, perhaps more accurately, partial transparency). In the context of the discussion on materiality’s opacity, Schmitz notes: “For when it is refused, a gift, so to speak, bends back upon the giver . . .”34 This is precisely the Derridean point: The paradox of the gift is that, while the gift denotes the unconditional and linear, it nevertheless “bends back,” returns, circulates—regardless of its refusal or acceptance. Schmitz then brings the question of the gift’s circularity into the religious domain. Referring to worship, he asks: “Can religious sacrifice, prayer, offering or the service of God have any significance other than the circle of divinity closing upon itself?”35 Schmitz approaches this question by arguing that the gift’s reception is “part of the original gift” of creation ex nihilo.36 For now, one may briefly register two problematic aspects to this notion, both of which may be traced to the comments on ex nihilo in my Introduction. First, the question of the gift-giver is treated with a radical undecidability in the present work. Who knows whether there is a divine giver, or, more specifically, Christianity’s divine giver? Hence, one can never be certain that worship is a giving-back or a gifting that appears to be a giving-back (but a gifting that is nevertheless deeply circular because it answers to a purported gifting). Second, I have already discussed the situation that, even if the gift-giver is the biblical God, this gifting may be otherwise-than a gifting in the mode of ex nihilo. In other words, divine gifting may somehow involve the interplay of ex nihilo, letting-be, autopoie¯sis, etc. Who can say? Schmitz does, indeed, recognize the tension in the gift, and thereby distinguishes between its unconditional sense from a more transactional one by utilizing “gift” for the former and “present” for the latter. During a passage that deals with the question of the freedom of the creature to “flaw” God’s “original gift,” the writer identifies how this contradiction is encapsulated in the German word Opfer: “The German word, Opfer, catches both meanings, for the creator’s love is both an offering and, potentially, a victim.”37 (Interestingly, Schmitz seems to overlook—or, at least, does not cite—the fact that Gift in German


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means “poison,” nor does he allude to the even more interesting fact that the Greek dosis can mean both a “gift” or “dose”—“dose” standing for both a cure and poison.) During his reflection on gratuity, Schmitz makes the following claim: “If something is given out of gratitude, it is caught in the temper of the gift; but if it is in ‘compensation’ for something received or expected, then it falls away from the character of the gift towards that of a transaction.”38 Now, even if something is given out of gratitude, it is still a giving that is closer to transacting than gifting, for gratitude is gratitude-for-x; in other words, gratefulness is thankfulnessfor-something or appreciation-of-something. Gratitude is caught up in circularity. Obviously, compensation is more readily identifiable as economic and is more heavily economic than gratitude. I stress, however, that exchange economy is not therefore derided: What is emphasized is the way in which circularity interplays with that which differs from it and exceeds it—gratuity. Schmitz’s thoughts on reciprocation are also noteworthy: He figures return not in terms of a reciprocal gift but “the completion of the gift being given.”39 The gift must not only be offered but also received. He utilizes the word “receptivity,” which barely resonates with circularity, and Schmitz notes that receptivity precedes reciprocity. But, for Schmitz, this receptivity is not passive. He claims: “The wax undergoes the imprint of the mold and may be said to ‘receive’ it; but such passivity is especially characteristic of physical matter. A truly human mode of receptivity calls for the recipient to rally his [sic] human resources in order to make a good reception.”40 This statement beckons several responses, for Schmitz’s work suffers here from the anthropocentrism he disavows earlier on in the text and from the humanism he disavows throughout the book—and these two “isms” (as well as his gender-exclusivistic language) come together here. As “physical matter,” humans share in this passivity. One could refer, for example, to Marion’s powerful argument on the radical passivity of the human subject—the me—to support the notion that the human receives its self as passively as any other being.41 Nevertheless, Schmitz’s comment possesses a certain validity: Perhaps the human being has the “added” capacity to recognize the creation-gift as gift, and this recognition is one of the two fundamental features of gifting (the other characteristic being gratuitousness). What makes the human reception of the gift a “good” reception is that this reception is identified as such. Hence, while all the pragmata of creation may be gifts to themselves and each other, it seems humans are “distinctive” in that we are able to perceive the giftness in/of things—albeit all too rarely. No doubt, this distinguishing mark is not meant to be misunderstood as a reason for privileging human beings among other beings: The ability to perceive a gift does not amount to privileging gift-perceiving creatures; the point is to treat all things as gifts.

A Brief History of Gifts


In the context of his meditation on receptivity, Schmitz notes: “To accept it [the gift] absentmindedly, with indifference or even hostility, would not really be to receive it at all.”42 I shall return to the themes of “absent-mindedness,” “indifference,” and “hostility” in due course, but they merit some discussion here. First, to receive a gift absent-mindedly is a good thing theoretically. To absentmindedly—which is close to unknowingly—accept a gift preserves the possibility of its nonreturn. However, this situation returns us to the fundamental aporia: The gift must be recognized as such—even though this recognition undoes its giftness. Second, responses such as surprise, wonder, and gratitude are lacking when the gift is received absentmindedly. One may already intuit here that there can be something dubious about this kind of response. “Indifference” is a second category of reception. It is more negative than absentmindedness because the gift is recognized as such but the recipient is nonetheless not moved by this kind of awareness. Any potentially positive effects of gift-giving (surprise, gratitude, etc.) are not actualized. Paradoxically (of course), this ungrateful stance preserves the gift, for there is no attempt to “return” it in any strong sense. Finally, hostility is a third mode of reception mentioned in Schmitz’s remark. Briefly, hostile receptivity is similar to—but surpasses —indifference. Theoretically, the hostile reaction does not save the gift from being caught up in the circle of exchange. On a practical level, the response to the gift may diametrically oppose responses like surprise and/or gratitude: The gift may be disfigured or destroyed. The notions of absentmindedness, indifference, and hostility may be applied to Christian theology. As the present inspection of its archives indicates, the gift (and the creation-gift) appears quite forgotten or very rarely considered. There appears to be a certain indifference to gift-things. Worse still is the flagrant opposition to corporeal gifts. The current work attempts to contribute to redressing our absentmindedness, indifference, and hostility, a task that is admirably and powerfully carried out by ecocriticism, ecotheology, and ecopraxis. But I shall not dwell too much on criticism here (a criticism much warranted): Rather than exclusively being critical of what’s wrong with theology, I—we— must also offer new ecological and ecotheological constructions. Criticism is followed by reconstructions that never forget it.

Schmitz on Divine Gifting Schmitz also offers some thoughts when it comes to divine gifting and the gift of creation. To begin with, Schmitz figures the divine as primordial gift-giver: “The Lord [God] is the donor who institutes the order within which the thing has its value, within which the giver gives, and within which the recipient re-


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ceives.”43 I noted above that Schmitz is aware that the interpretation of “an absolutely all-powerful God, creator ex nihilo, seems utterly outmoded”—but he nevertheless pursues it even when he acknowledges the possibility of a more mutually interactive God. So, how does Schmitz meditate over the event of creation-from-nothing by a divine creator? Beginning with a summary treatment of “myth,” the author delineates three ways in which the myth of “creation” is figured: by “partition,” “emergence,” and “intelligent activity.”44 Partition delineates those myths in which creation is understood in terms of division or differentiation. The second mode of creation, emergence, is characterized by growth and process. The third category involves “properly intelligent activity”; creation comes about via “thought,” “will,” “fashioning,” or by being “spoken” into existence. The Genesis story is situated in the third mode of creative activity—though, going by our previous discussion of Genesis 2, I’d suggest it traverses all three. Schmitz registers the follow recognition: “Creatio ex nihilo or de nihilo seems to fall outside common human experience, and consequently, outside of philosophical enquiry as such.”45 But this valid point may be radically extended to all knowledge-related discourses: The creation event per se—and we must be reminded here that it is ongoing—exceeds all epistemic enquiry, be it scientific, philosophical, theological, or otherwise. The creation-act surpasses humanity’s ability to think it; recognizing this excess enables us to insist on foregrounding undecidability and unknowing when broaching the question of the creation-event. Schmitz refers to the doctrinal history of creatio ex nihilo. He explains: “Creation from nothing has been a religious doctrine among Christians for centuries. . . . Creeds and Councils have given it institutional expression.”46 However, he cites a relatively recent document to support this notion, the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith (1870), which declares: “If anyone does not admit that the world and everything in it, both spiritual and material, have been produced in their entire substance by God out of nothing . . . or denies that the world was made for the glory of God: let him [sic] be anathema.”47 Schmitz traces the way in which this “traditional strict and full belief in creation as a making out of nothing” came to be, for he recognizes that “most Biblical scholars are more reserved” when it comes to reading the Genesis account as “the explicit affirmation of creation from nothing”—indeed, after a very brief perusal of the biblical text, Schmitz himself concedes that “the explicit doctrine of creation ex nihilo is not to be claimed for the cosmogony set forth in Genesis . . .”48 Nevertheless, Schmitz is keen to preserve God’s (purportedly) unique power, transcendence, and difference from creation, and locates scriptural validation for the doctrine (such as 2 Maccabees 7.28) and support from theological heavyweights (e.g., Tertullian, Anselm [1033–1109]).

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Before he begins the retracing proper, Schmitz makes the following claim about the gift-giver: “He [God] is neither less nor more because he creates. There are intimations of such power in human relationships. When we love someone without demanding a return we do not diminish our own being thereby.”49 Despite the affirmation of unconditional creating, Schmitz nevertheless goes on to express divine gifting in economic terms: Creation is “created for his [God’s] own purpose.”50 Once again, a discourse on the gift runs into contradiction: On the one hand, the deity purportedly gifts creation without condition, but this creation is created for a purpose. During his discourse on the ex nihilo, Schmitz offers some fascinating insights about gifting and subjectivity, particularly in the following passage, which warrants lengthy citation: It makes no strict sense to say, before I have received a gift, that I am giftless as though there is a lack in me. . . . Certainly, before I have received a gift, I am without a gift; I simply do not have one. But I do not lack something due me. . . . The gift is not as such a remedy for some lack, but is rather an unexpected surplus that comes without prior conditions set by the recipient. The element of gratitude indicates that there is no ground in the recipient for this gift, so that the gift is strictly uncalled for. It is not compensation for something previously done, though it may be given in gratitude. Nor is it commiseration for something that ought to be present, though it may be given out of mercy. Creation is to be understood as the reception of a good not due in any way, so that there cannot be even a subject of that reception; there is not something which receives, but rather sheer receiving.51

The discourse generates several comments, and some of its themes will resound throughout the rest of the present work. First of all, creation-gifting ex nihilo is figured in strikingly positive terms. Gifting does not fulfill a lack; even as a surplus, it may nevertheless be given in gratitude—the gift-tension is maintained. The gift may also be given out of mercy—a term that is crossed below. Strikingly, Schmitz declares that gifting precedes subjectivity. In his incisive emphasis on reception rather than receiver, Schmitz contributes to the decentering of the subject. I will also return to notions like the gift’s surplus, nongroundedness, and precedence—particularly in relation to the gift of creation (if it is one).

Webb on Squandering and Gratitude Unlike Schmitz’s text, Webb’s The Gifting God comes after the Derridean aporetics of gifting: Webb therefore has the hindsight to negotiate the insights


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of Given Time. He accepts the Derridean insistence on the linear and circular— and therefore aporetic—nature of gifting. Furthermore, Webb appears to welcome the instability Derrida’s discourse delivers. Indeed, Webb attempts to order and disorder Derrida’s own work by disrupting and developing it in a theological direction. Webb departs from Derrida, nevertheless remaining aware of the contradictory nature of the gift, and the aporia’s negotiation lies at the heart of his meditation: “The question is whether giving can embody elements of both excess and exchange at the same time.”52 Webb’s desire for syncresis is reinforced in the following programmatic statement: “My goal is to show how, in our modern period, these two approaches to giving, excess (or squandering) and exchange (or reciprocity), have become increasingly polarized . . . ,” adding that: “In most theoretical accounts of giving, excess and exchange are either insufficiently distinguished or completely compartmentalized from each other . . .”53 In other words, theorizations of gifting have tended to emphasize either gratuity or circularity. This thought-provoking evaluation evokes several responses. To begin with, the present retracing indicates that this polarization is not restricted to modern theory: Historically, theology has tended to figure the gift according to either one of its two competing aspects. Indeed, the Bible itself casts the gift in extraordinarily contrasting terms—from the gift-bribe to the grace-gift. And so, the polarization of the gift’s gratuity and reciprocity is not a particularly modern phenomenon. Of course, while any ana-lysis (loosening up) of the gift would necessarily distinguish its two basic aspects, the gift is what it is in its duality. While the gift has historically been overwhelmingly figured in terms of one or the other of its disparate elements, Webb’s analyses of some of our most important modern theorizations of the gift certainly reveal the act of polarization. His criticism is most poignant when the focus turns to those thinkers who have figured gifting in terms of gratuity or squandering. First of all, why is “squandering” an important concept in relation to the question of gifting? It exemplifies or amplifies the gift’s excess in its recklessness, extravagance, wastefulness. Squandering resists economization. Webb introduces his chapter on squandering by acknowledging its theological resonance: “Squandering is a kind of giving that denies exchange, and since theology often portrays God as a purely excessive giver, it is important to examine squandering . . .”54 Recalling the above retracing, this portrayal is confirmed in remarks by thinkers like Tertullian and Aquinas. Webb also explores the work of the most profound thinkers of squandering, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche (and others, such as Bataille).55 Webb credits Emerson in the following way: “Emerson wants to free giving from guilt (from response, or responsibility). He characterizes giving as the pleasurable and playful parodying of paying; one act is as

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free as the other is compelled.”56 Emerson therefore expresses squandering or gifting according to its gratuity. Webb also provides a thoughtful analysis of Nietzschean squandering. Briefly, Webb cites the fact that Thus Spoke Zarathustra begins and ends with notions of gifting (the endless gifting of the sun and the generosity of the prophet), and observes the fact that “Zarathustra is almost constantly talking about giving.”57 This giving is overflowing. Nietzschean/ Zarathustrean gifting entails radical abandon or loss, and is radically distanced from alms and sacrifice. Now, Nietzsche also recognizes the two economies at work in the gift. Squandering is favored compared to the kind of gifting that, as Webb aptly phrases it, “is an economy of reserve based on timidity, fear, and prudence.”58 Thus, Nietzsche’s “celebration of strong giving is not an attempt to purify giving from the machinations of calculation and exchange” but is “a way of turning exchange inward in order to circumvent some of the restrictive implications of mutuality and reciprocity.”59 Rather than the irresponsibility implied by the word “squandering,” this kind of gifting is demanding—indeed, in Nietzsche’s/ Zarathustra’s own words: “A gift-giving virtue is the greatest virtue.”60 Despite the emphatic foregrounding of excess by the likes of Emerson and Nietzsche, Webb rightly criticizes these thinkers insofar as their work falls prey to the modernist preoccupation and amplification of the subject’s autonomy. Webb recognizes Emerson’s gifting as too self-ish: “Giving is a form of creation, but instead of creating something other (as in the Genesis account), for Emerson, giving creates only the self.”61 Nietzsche’s self-sufficient gift-giver resembles the deity of old who gifts or creates strictly ex nihilo. By an incisive act of inversion, Webb sounds the death knell for Nietzsche’s squandering Ubermensch: “The squanderer begins to look suspiciously similar to the God whom Nietzsche has pronounced dead,” for “the overman [sic], like God in the traditional theology of creation, does not so much give as create; what he gives is a new and original act that is not responsive to a prior giving and not intended to engender bonds of mutuality and support. Such giving must be ex nihilo, a free, spontaneous, gratuitous event.”62 Webb argues that Nietzschean squandering also suffers from a logic of maximizing capitalization: “The economics of squandering must be planned, arranged, and managed so that power is maximized.”63 Finally, Nietzschean squandering ends up being exceedingly circular; as Zarathustra himself proclaims: “What returns, what finally, comes home to me, is my own self.”64 Emersonian and Nietzschean squandering thereby become entangled in the gift-aporia: These versions of squandering are as circularistic and economical as they are excessive and wasteful. By acknowledging some of the more excessive (severe) elements of the ways in which squandering has been theorized, does Webb thereby reject the


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notion of squandering? He tempers any extreme figuring of squandering— though one may ask whether there is any other kind—by introducing the question of gratitude into his discourse. Webb attentively notes gratitude’s affirmative and negative characteristics (under the subheading “Against Gratitude”). First, he cites what he purports to be positive aspects to gratitude and some of its social expressions: “Gratitude is diffuse: it is the opportunity to recognize any external priority, from the debt of our birth to the aid of all those institutions that make us what we are. . . . Gratitude thus signifies various kinds of dependence and obligation, from bondage to praise and even worship. It can be an aspect of a vague attitude or intense emotion, or it can be organized in value systems, elaborate rituals, and daily, habitual activities.”65 Note the nature of gratitude: It is a “recognition” of a prior-ity. This recognition marks the gift’s circularity but also its possibility: Without recognition there would be no perception of it. With the gift’s recognition, its gratuity is undone—this is its very aporeticity. But its circularity is starkly expressed in the phrase “the debt of our birth”: The recognition of our birth-as-gift is marked by indebtedness. Note, too, the reference to religious indebtedness: “dependence and obligation, from bondage to praise and even worship.” Religion (religare) binds. The religious are indebted to the divine. Having described gratitude in terms of exchange, Webb also offers an argument that attempts to indicate a somewhat anti-circular dimension to gratitude: “Gratitude is a substitute for the countergift, the promise of a return that would not be a return, that is, the promise of further, commensurate gifts. . . . [I]t vows future action based on imagination and reflection, not automatic equivalence.”66 But could gratitude in fact exceed pure and simple exchange? First, note the phrase “gratitude is a substitute for the countergift”: What is substitution if not a form of exchange? Substitution is akin to exchange (and vice versa). Furthermore, even though gratitude may be deemed a “poor” or “inadequate” return, it is nevertheless a return: Equivalency needn’t be a condition for transaction. (Certainly, the logic of capitalism doesn’t require “equivalence” —on the contrary, it thrives on surplus.) The circular nature of gratitude is admitted by Webb himself: Gratitude is a substitute or exchange for that most obvious object of reciprocity—the countergift. The most pertinent part of the above-quoted statement, however, has to do with the notion that gratitude or indebtedness is a return-without-return because it is mediated by time (it is futural, nonautomatic). John Milbank’s essay “Can a Gift Be Given?” makes a similar claim. Nevertheless, as Horner convincingly explains, delay only delays gifting’s circularity without effacing it. As is the case with incommensurability, delay does not disrupt exchange economy. Horner succinctly sums up the convincing case against unequal trade and tem-

A Brief History of Gifts


poral delay as measures to interrupt the circle: “The incorporation of the elements of difference and delay do not solve this problem. If the gift returns in a different measure or kind or after some delay, it still undoes itself, for it can always be the result of a need for a certain circularity . . .”67 Even though Horner finds Milbank’s pragmatism “appealing,” his affirmation of gift-exchange “forces us to maintain an inherent contradiction in the word ‘gift’ . . .” But this is precisely why the gift is an aporia—because of its inherent, irresolvable contradiction. Webb is aware that gratitude undoes the gift: “Gratitude is a kind of expected gift, something that earns credit when adequately supplied, which raises all sorts of puzzles. The question immediately arises whether gratitude should be expressed at all.”68 Now, gratitude may certainly be understood as a countergift: It is given when a gift is received. In our everyday gifting, gratitude usually seems to be anticipated, so Webb is correct in asserting that gratitude may be “a kind of expected gift.” Gratitude therefore discloses the mark of circularity. This exemplifies the conundrum of the gift. In the context of its perplexing nature, Webb offers the ostensibly perplexing possibility of whether we should express gratitude at all. This question may be extended: Which responses, if any, should be expressed? This leads to a further question that will only be presented (rather than engaged) at this stage: Which responses, if any, would be ecological?

Webb on Divine and Human Gifting What is the relation between Webb’s theology and his recognition of the paradoxical nature of gifting? Webb is keen to preserve the gift’s paradoxical elements, despite the difficulty of such preservation. Webb notes the theologically subversive—as well as conservative—effect of thinking gifting: “Gift giving provides an important perspective to challenge the classical model of theism because it both continues and undermines many aspects of the traditional pairing of the divine gratuity and our gratitude.”69 So, how does Webb attempt to overcome the persistent bias toward one or the other element of gifting? He intends to maintain the tension by applying a nuanced trinitarian framework: “Excess and exchange need to be conceived, in a Chalcedonian manner, as separate and yet one, different and cohering aspects of one dynamic, threefold process.”70 First, by determining the first Person of the Trinity as Giver, Webb (like Schmitz) starkly emphasizes the precedence of gifting over what-is: God “creates our giving.”71 Such immemorial expenditure inspires and accommodates corporeal gratuity and return: “Only a giving that begins with an original and abundant gift and aims at a community of mutual givers can be both extravagant and reciprocal.”72


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Webb’s argument is engaging, but problems remain. First, the notion that God “creates our giving” may be linked to the idea of creation ex nihilo: God creates everything, including gifting itself. This possibility risks marginalizing the possibility of cocreation. Second, immemorial gifting “aims at” (Webb’s phrase) something else, that is, the continuation of the process of gifting: There is an aim, an intention. While intention is a necessary element of gifting (as Derrida acknowledges), divine gifting is here figured according to exchange, even though the aim is a noble one (creaturely gifting). Like Schmitz, Webb argues that divine gratuity is purposeful. Third, divine prior-ity opens up the possibility of indebtedness, a sentiment offered by Webb himself: “The theological circle of giving—the church, inasmuch as it continues and galvanizes God’s giving—is, in principle, unlimited and open. To enter into this circle is to acknowledge a debt that takes the form of a prior giving that carries one forward into more giving.”73 This passage is obviously marked by the logic of exchange, even though Webb qualifies this mercantilism by stating that the circle is “unlimited and open”—like a spiral. The issue of debt is recollected from beginning to end of The Gifting God: Early on in the text, Webb announces that one of the tasks of theology is “to awaken us to a greater magnitude of debt, a more original and amazing donation, and hence a higher order of gratitude,” and he calculates our religious arrears at the end of the text by stating that “Christians are in debt not just to God . . .”74 To be sure, Webb oscillates between an emphasis on gratitude or indebtedness and squandering or excess. In the previous section, I discussed Webb’s convincing critique of human squandering. Webb nevertheless—and impressively — encourages squandering, basing our gifting on divine squandering: “I argue that God wants us to give excessively, beyond the requirements of utility, because that is the nature of giving, and this giving is what God needs and desires in order to be all that God can be.”75 This assertion is attractive in its articulation of a desirous deity (undoubtedly closer to the passionate God of the Bible than philosophy’s unmoved Mover), a refiguration that also finds a place for excessive giving. According to this logic, God capitalizes on our excess: Divinity maximizes its own becoming through our squandering. This notion disrupts the notion of an independent deity. But this wonderful notion also signals a problem: Our gifting appears goal-driven; we should squander because God needs it. Now, Webb’s theology of squandering becomes entangled further on in the text: On one page, Webb determines that “God’s gifting is not random or reckless . . .” and yet, one page later, God does indeed perform “reckless giving.”76 Webb’s text oscillates—in spite of itself. The author’s stress on divine squandering paradoxically generates a theology of indebtedness. Webb certainly recognizes that Christian gifting does not escape exchange economy: “Being a Christian

A Brief History of Gifts


means being implicated in a kind of economy, a structure of demands and benefits—a covenant.”77 Webb seems to come full circle: On the one hand, Christians are supposed to emulate divine squandering; on the other, Christian giftgivers participate in a covenant—a kind of exchange economy. While attempting to figure Christian gifting in terms of excess, Webb ends up emphasizing its circularity. Turning to the second person of the Trinity, Webb notes how the Christgift may be the paradigmatic act of gifting: “Jesus’ death has come to signify the ultimate act of giving. Giving is a kind of relinquishing or undoing that prepares us for death, a letting go or giving up that enables us to give in to our finitude with hope and courage. Every gift is both a death and a rebirth, simultaneously the loss and return of the self.”78 Webb prudently incorporates both aspects of gifting (loss and return) in his gift christology. The messianic sacrifice oscillates between excess and exchange: “Although the cross connects giving to losing, it does not suggest that [Christian] squandering is a fruitless self-denial aimed at some otherworldly reward. . . . [W]e give because we already have been given too much. . . . Jesus Christ reveals both the futility and the fecundity of the gift.”79 Of course, one may argue that Webb leans toward exchange or reciprocity when he states: “We give because we already have been given too much.” There is a reason behind gifting—even though this reason is excess itself. Does this “reason” elude calculation? Webb also correlates the Holy Spirit with gifting. The third person of the Trinity denotes the dynamism of the gift: “Our giving is not governed by the logic of compensation and return but by the desire to follow the essential dynamic of all gifts, which is to return them to their origin, in God, by giving them to others.”80 Once again, circularity marks this aspect of the trinitarian model of gifting: Even when disseminated according to the logic of a divine economy, gifts are nevertheless figured in terms of return and origin. What is the crux of Webb’s trinitarian theology? He himself declares: “I want to argue that divine gift giving is both excessive and reciprocal, or rather, it is reciprocal precisely because it is excessive. . . . My governing insight, then, is the following: divine excess begets reciprocity. Without excess, reciprocity becomes calculation, bartering, exchange; without reciprocity, excess becomes irrelevant, anarchic, and wasteful.”81 Webb correctly identifies and maintains the inherent tension in gifting. However, does his insight clarify the aporia, or does it intensify it? After all, how and why should excess beget reciprocity? One would expect that excess, by definition, would seek nothing, ask for nothing. Webb concedes that the purportedly divine logic in which “God receives in order to give again” is a “strange economy” and that this “giving by returning” certainly does “defy our desires and expectations.”82 Now, one may expect the


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unexpected from divinity, but don’t these statements acknowledge the fact that any thinking of divine gifting obscures—rather than clarifies—our thinking of corporeal gifting? In other words, it seems Webb’s text conceals more than it reveals—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, Webb’s theology of gifting seems to magnify the gift’s aporetic nature—which is a good thing. Some other issues and concerns confront Webb’s otherwise thoughtful text. First of all, Webb cites biblical writings to elucidate his theological interpretation of gifting. As was demonstrated earlier, this is a difficult strategy, for the Bible is a textual site that draws out, rather than resolves, the gift’s tension. Of course, Webb’s references lend weight to his argument, but the following statement indicates why it seems to be ultimately unconvincing: “Paul’s theology combines debt, obligation, and dependence with freedom, mutuality, and community. Our indebtedness enables us to spend freely. We are clients of God, and thus our patronage to each other is made possible but also deprived of any power and prestige.”83 If Webb intends to magnify the gift-aporia, he succeeds, for one remains confronted with the paradox that gifting is both free and dependent. While Webb may describe the gift’s theological dynamic, he does not seem to come any closer to explaining it. Webb’s discourse on grace is also problematic (and perplexing). He states: “The foundation of the economy [of grace] is an exchange in which God gives us God’s own self in order to generate spiritual wealth and power for us.”84 The economic, causal language (“exchange,” “in order to”) is self-evident. Grace is economized: It phenomenalizes as an exchange, and it is economically motivated. And yet, Webb figures grace in extraordinarily noncircular terms: “The antieconomical covenant of the gifting community is based on luck, chance, and accident, which are terms that, under the hermeneutics of the gift, are other names for grace.”85 This is a fascinating point, one that is welcomed by an aporetics that insists on intention and its other(s). However, as I suggested in my Introduction, an examination of the gift-aporia is “difficult” enough on its own; to draw “indescribable grace” into the question appears to entangle us further. Once more, we emphasize that entanglement isn’t necessarily a bad thing —on the contrary, we gift aporeticians expect and empathize with it. One also confronts the question of analogy in The Gifting God. Early on in the text, Webb instructs: “God’s giving must be correlated to our own practices of exchange and reciprocity, yet this correlation cannot be strict or exact.”86 This statement rightly reflects theological kataphatism (correlation) and apophatism (distance). And yet, this position masks several problems. First, a radical apophatism opens up the possibility that there may be no correlation between divine and human gifting. If this is the case, then divine gifting would not be “correlated to our own practices of exchange and reciprocity.” Any

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correlation—even a lax one—presupposes some ability to comprehend divine gifting. Perhaps deities gift like we do—but perhaps not: Any possible correlation must therefore be recognized as marked by undecidability. Of course, I do not suggest that the possibility of correlation should be rejected outright. Such a rejection would deny undecidability (by deciding against correlation), and would concede too much to apophatism—especially if one has (some kind of) faith in a biblical God who participates in the calling-forth of divinely imaged beings. One should therefore oscillate between kataphasis and apophasis. Accordingly, there is a certain legitimacy in attempting to pursue, as Webb does, a theology of gifting whose insights may be transposed to worldly gifting. To be sure, there is an apophatism (and oscillation) at work—or at least acknowledged—in The Gifting God: “A desire for the other confounded by the reckless giving of the Ultimate Other is a point worth trying to make, even as that very point unmakes and confounds all of our attempts to grasp what we can never reach and to speak what we can never know.”87 This citation certainly indicates that Webb himself recognizes the role of uncertainty associated with the thinking of gifting. Webb acknowledges the limits of discourse in another passage, though this one is more problematic, and worth examining in some detail: “I do not offer a simple or magical formula for giving because giving is beyond our control and thus resists our knowing, yet we can try to glimpse the various stages of the gift, and by receiving the mystery of God, we can have some sense of the gift as a whole.”88 Leaving aside whether the gift is “simple” and/or “magical” (one could propose that the gift’s definitional “simplicity” is what generates its “magical” aporetic nature), note how Webb employs a lexicon of modesty and moderation: “beyond our control,” “resists our knowing,” “try to glimpse,” “have some sense.” Note that the first two phrases signal an apophatism (gifting exceeds human comprehension), while the latter two indicate a modest kataphatism (there may be a degree of understanding). Webb oscillates between the negative and the positive. However, what is most fascinating about the cited statement is that Webb’s kataphatism is established on theological grounds: The gift may be glimpsed because “we receive the mystery of God.” (Let us ignore the question of who the “we” is, and how “we” receive it.) Webb’s model rests on the argument that religious or theological insight illuminates one’s understanding of gifting. The connection between “receiving the mystery of God” and obtaining “some sense of the gift” is problematic for the following reason: How can the reception of a mystery (in this case, “God”) lead to a clarification of the giftparadox? How can the reception of a mystery (i.e., deity) clarify another (i.e., the creation-gift)? The mystery of divinity would obscure—more than clarify— any theorization of gifting.


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Despite all of the above-mentioned confronting issues and questions, and despite the fact that Webb acknowledges the inability for a consistently coherent account of the gift, he nevertheless immediately stresses: “Being clear about how God gives is of the utmost importance.”89 Elsewhere, Webb declares: “We need to know how giving—properly understood and practiced as that which precedes that which is and thus who we are—can free us from the obsessive desire to secure and save our existence at the cost of others, to own ourselves before we give, to place our own being before God’s giving. In other words, we still need to know what giving does, or how giving works.”90 These sentiments are offered in a chapter ambitiously titled “How Gifting Works.” This aim—as noble (and ambitious) as it is—runs contrary to Webb’s earlier assertion that formulations of (corporeal) gifting can be neither “simple” nor “magical”: He now proposes that clarity may be achieved when considering divine giving—a gifting more unthinkable (one would think), by definition. Webb acknowledges the confounding quality of material gifting; and yet, he also promotes the possibility that divine giving may be understood. On the one hand, Webb realizes that any correlation between divine and corporeal gifting is tentative; on the other, he determines that clarity about divine gifting would illuminate creaturely gifting. I would suggest that, rather than working out how the gift works, Webb— we—are worked (out-played) by the gift-aporia.

Marion on the Gift and the Prodigal Schmitz and Webb should be acknowledged and praised for undertaking the rare and important theological work of sustained and insightful treatments of the gift. Marion, too, has carefully considered the gift; indeed, he may be deemed the most consequential Christian thinker of the gift. He has negotiated this question on two fronts, theological and phenomenological (the latter is examined in chapter 3). Webb appraises Marion’s theological deployment of the figure of the gift: “Jean-Luc Marion has most consistently pursued the possibility of defining God in terms of giving (the Christian notion of charity and agape) rather than Being (the most general metaphysical idea and thus the foundation of philosophy).”91 Now, Marion’s interest in the gift is evidenced in early theological works, including The Idol and Distance and God without Being. The first work is composed of a series of meditations on the notion of “distance,” which is the “undefinable” divide between the divine and the human, in which “alterity alone allows communion,” and wherein “incommensurability alone makes intimacy possible . . .”92 The word “gift” is recalled repeatedly in the second half of the book, but Marion does not offer a detailed account of how this concept and phenomenon is figured in the context of a reflection on distance. Nonethe-

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less, The Idol and Distance verifies the gift’s tension. On the one hand, the quality of gratuity and excess is associated with gifting: “Proximity perhaps is not to be seized like a good to be stored away, but to be received, like a gift in which distance remains irreducible just as much as presence there delivers itself without return.”93 Abandon and gift are two movements of distance.94 Kenosis (selfemptying) is “unconditional gift.”95 On the other hand, Marion speaks of “the circulation of the gift . . .”96 While moving away from an explicitly economic gift (“investment, “dispossession”), he nevertheless inscribes return in it: “Alone among the gods, the Christ experiences his divinity less as an investment or a dispossession [very economistic figures] than as the freedom of a gift received from the Father and returned.”97 The gift is received and returned—this is circular through-and-through. With regard to the gift of the biblical writings, Marion insists: “The logia [the Bible] should actually be received as gifts. And therefore be returned to the giver.”98 Apparently, the gift of The Icon and Distance swings between the two polarities of excess (distance, kenosis) and exchange (circulation, return). As for Marion’s God without Being, its overriding ambition is “to think God without any conditions . . .”99 The book brilliantly exposes and humbles the human pretension to master God conceptually via recourse to being (not to mention beings) by arguing that the divine exceeds or is otherwise than being. It also offers a more detailed picture of the ways in which Marion theologically figures the gift. His reflection on the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.12–32) crosses this question in all its perplexity. To begin with, we should recall the context of this passage: The primary aim of Marion’s contemplation of the parable is to destabilize and exceed the ontological difference [Being/beings] by recourse to the gift, rather than a sustained contemplation on the gift per se. Now, during this reflection, the word “gift” is repeatedly brought into play—fifteen times in the most significant passage.100 First of all, Marion argues that the younger son already had access to his father’s goods: “The son, in the role of heir . . . already had the use and enjoyment of them [“goods” or “property”].”101 But was this really the case? Marion concedes that “this enjoyment did not strictly coincide with possession, nor this usage with disposability: between one and the other term intervened an irreducible authority, the father.” Evidently, a condition imposes itself over these goods: paternal authority. A question (or objection) immediately comes to mind: Should the gift come with strings attached? When a gift-giver gifts a gift to an other, should the former retain an “irreducible authority” over the gift? Certainly, these kinds of questions would be answered in the negative when confronted with the thought of the “pure” or “perfect” gift, for the gift would be given without condition, without retention of authority. However, we have already noted the way in which purity is confounded by the gift’s necessary identification or relation-


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ality. We can already begin to register the confounding paradox that marks the gifting between the father and son. Now, Marion’s conceptualization of the gift-as-conditional becomes more acute as his contemplation of the prodigal proceeds: While the father’s giving is given with generosity (the father gives immediately and without discussion), the son nevertheless wants to possess his share, but not to “owe that share of ousia . . .”: He [the son] asks to possess it [his ousia or share of the goods], dispose of it, enjoy it without passing through the gift and the reception of the gift. The son wants to owe nothing to his father, and above all not to owe him a gift; he asks to have a father no longer—the ousia without the father or the gift. The ousia becomes the full possession of the son only to the extent that it is fully dispossessed of the father: dispossession of the father, annulment of the gift, this is what possession of ousia implies. . . . [T]he possession that censures the gift integrates within itself, indissolubly, the waste of the gift . . .”102

This passage elicits a number of responses. First, Marion’s recurring employment of the word “owe” heightens the economic tone of his discourse in relation to the gift. But must the gift be owed? One assumes that the gift is perhaps one of the few things in life that should not be owed: By definition, the gift would be that which isn’t owed but rather given gratuitously and without condition. Even if identity and reciprocity are involved in the gift, the extreme category of “owing” seems out of place. It seems Marion’s text exemplifies the gift’s entanglement in economics. And so, one must ponder: If we owe the father/mother/other, can we still call what we are given a gift? Doesn’t the gratuity of the gift entail cutting the ties that bind? Can one enjoy a gift but still feel indebted? In the above passage, Marion seems to want to hold onto a familial debt. But Mark C. Taylor’s competing claim is just as cogent and more powerful: The “prodigal neither returns nor demands a return.”103 Assuming (quite easily and obviously) that the prodigal’s father represents the “Father,” how is one to theologically think this “owing”? This issue is discussed in detail in due course, but we may cite Horner here, who compellingly argues against owing an indebting deity: “I cannot believe in a God who obliges my belief, and similarly, a God who constantly places me in debt seems not particularly loving.”104 In the conclusion to the meticulously argued Rethinking God as Gift, Horner edifyingly pronounces: “If there is any good news, then the good news is that we owe God nothing, that God’s (is) a gift that is really free . . .”105 I shall argue in due course why Horner’s inspiring contention is not fully satisfactory, but it suffices to register here the problematic nature of being indebted to a deity—especially to a merciful and gracious God.

A Brief History of Gifts


Now, another important response elicited by the above-quoted passage is the question of squandering, signaled here by “dispossession,” “waste,” “expenditure,” and “dissipation.”106 Marion adds the following to what is stated above: “Henceforth orphan of the paternal gift, ousia finds itself possessed in the mode of dissipation. . . . Landed property, now without ground, becomes liquid money. . . . The reason for the concrete dissipation of ousia is found in a first and fundamental dissipation: the transformation of the ousia into liquid (money), which itself results from the abandonment of the paternal gift as place, meaning, and legitimacy of the enjoyment of the ousia.” There is a feeling here of losing the gift, of having the gift abandoned, as its liquidity slips through our fingers. There is a sense here of losing the gift’s “place, meaning, and legitimacy.” But has the gift a “place,” a “meaning,” and a “legitimacy”? It is fascinating to note Marion’s remark that the gift’s “dispersed dissipation” occurs in a “great ‘region,’ or rather kho¯ra, an empty and undetermined space, where meaning even more than food, has disappeared.” Why is the identification of the kho¯ra fascinating? According to a Derridean aporetics of gifting, kho¯ra is precisely the nonplace where gifting may take place: The gift is “atopical”—without location and therefore “the extraordinary, the unusual, the strange, the extravagant, the absurd, the mad.”107 There even seems to be a certain equivalence—or, more cautiously, a certain relation—between the gift and kho¯ra, for Derrida proposes that the gift “sets off its [the circle’s] motion” and that—perhaps hyperbolically speaking—this is what Derrida has in mind when he states that the gift is a kind of “first mover of the circle.”108 In quasi-Derridean terms, quasi-transcendental kho¯ra “gifts” or possibilizes both gifting and the circularity that undoes it.109 But we have already strayed or wandered into the question of “the Gift” (as Horner expresses it) rather than the ontic gift. Nevertheless, even when dealing with ontic gifts, one may perhaps surmise that Derrida would affirm that which Marion states negatively, critically: “Orphan,” “abandonment,” “dispossession,” “dissipation,” etc., may be a “proper” glossary of the gift, properly figuring the inappropriate figure of the gift. One is thereby left with a paralyzing dilemma: Should the gift be abandoned, or should it be returned? Does the gift have a place (identification) or a nonplace (kho¯ra)? Is it “legitimate” (calculated, owed) or “illegitimate” (orphaned, dispossessed)? An aporia, indeed.

Webb on Marion’s Excess As part of his reflection on the gift, Webb engages with Marion’s treatment of the question of excess. Having praised Marion’s emphasis on the gift’s transgression of being, Webb nevertheless observes:


Chapter 2 In his rush to contrast giving [gifting] and being, however, Marion is also indifferent to the differences in giving itself. He pushes God’s excess so far that the gift analogy is stretched out of recognizable shape. . . . God’s giving obliterates any sign of either a given or a receipt. God’s giving is not a process but a singular act that defies our understanding and resists our participation. At best, through gratitude we can glimpse the infinite distance breached by this abundant giving, which is totally different from and thus unrelated to the divine excess. Just as giving opposes being, for Marion, excess is unrelated to reciprocity. What cannot be understood can be received but not returned.110

To begin with, one immediately notes that Webb’s criticism of Marion’s excessive emphasis on excess contrasts sharply with my critique of Marion’s circularism: This dual criticism further highlights Marion’s entanglement—and, I repeat, this is to be expected when attempting to think the gift. Marion’s radical promotion of distance and excess is paradoxically counterposed with his relatively conservative-religious defense of circularity and return (as demonstrated by his meditation on the prodigal son). Both-and. Now, Webb’s criticism warrants a variety of responses. Some validate Marion’s stance; others confirm Webb’s concerns. First of all, any thinker who attends to the limits of human thinking should be applauded—especially where the divine is concerned. The possibility that divine gifting “defies our understanding and resists our participation” is welcomed in an aporetics that attempts to contribute to the resistance against excessive epistemic and technological mastery. Hence, Marion’s insistence on distance is admirable—and Webb himself acknowledges this insight. Second, it is difficult to reason against the position that “excess is unrelated to reciprocity.” By definition, the two are antithetical. But this is why the gift is an aporia: Its antithesis is internal to it. Hence, Marion would be rather rigorous if, according to Webb, he insists that the conditional and the unconditional remain mutually exclusive. However, it should be noted that the qualifier “rather” registers the fact that any “unrelation” may perhaps be more accurately expressed as an “un/relation,” the forward slash signaling that the gift-aspects are both divided (unrelated) and united (related) in the gift. Another interesting feature of Webb’s critique is the employment of the phrase “giving opposes being” to characterize Marion’s work. It is interesting because “opposes” can mean two things: dissension and differentiation. On the one hand, there is a certain legitimacy in summoning the word in its first sense, for Marion sometimes appears to harbor a kind of polemical stance or resentment toward being. In God without Being, he employs a terminology figured in terms of “teasing”: We play a game that attempts to “play at/upon Being,” “to make sport of Being,” “by making it play a game other than its own,” “to outwit it”—even though Marion himself claims that he “does not mean

A Brief History of Gifts


that one claims to criticize or provoke it . . .”111 Marion’s passion for excess, combined with his Francophonic style (hyperbolic, even affected) may be misinterpreted as a kind of theological de(-)gradation of being/s—the hyphen in “de-gradation” signals the ambiguousness of this proposition. In sum, I think Marion seeks to differentiate and perhaps prior(-)itize the one (gifting) from the other (being/s). While any decentering may be misinterpreted as a condemnation, Marion wants to stress that gifting gifts being/s. I’d propose that it is a question of precedence and difference rather than opposition. Whatever the case may be, a possible hint of polemics only slightly risks obscuring Marion’s fundamental insight: that thinking the gift/divinity would exceed the thinking of being. While Marion’s teasing of being is open to question, I share Webb’s concerns on three fronts: theological, philosophical, and ecological. First, I concur with Webb that Marion’s emphasis on difference risks erasing the possibility of any correlation between divine and corporeal gifting. Of course, as I noted above, the other extreme—i.e., assuming a crude correlation—is just as problematic. Nonetheless, how can Marion be certain of an absolute difference between the two giftings? Perhaps there are shared characteristics. The theologian should at least keep open the possibility of similitude as well as difference. And, as Webb notes, if there is a possibility of a certain correlation, then this correlation discloses possible insights in terms of praxis: “We need to look further for both the full range of the practical application of God’s giving and an account of divine giving that proliferates further giving . . .”112 Marion’s insistence on distance opens onto a vexing philosophical problem broached by Webb; he determines that Marion’s primary target is ontology: “Although Marion boldly thinks through the naming of God according to the dynamic of giving, his main concerns remain ontological. He is intent to demonstrate the ways in which giving subverts and frustrates the mechanics of metaphysics.”113 While Marion’s intention is unquestionably admirable (freeing phenomena from imposed constraints), his subversion and frustration of metaphysics seems excessive or severe in relation to the question of the gift in the following way (which is tentatively elaborated as we proceed): The corporeal gift is not only marked by the other-than-metaphysical (absence, excess, gratuity) but also by the metaphysical (presence, identification, reciprocity). Without the latter, the gift would not be received and known as such. While “the mechanics of metaphysics” undoubtedly undoes the gift’s giftness, the gift nevertheless requires it: Phenomena that are not received according to some metaphysical measure would not be perceived as “gifts,” for the freely given gifts itself to—but also surpasses—identification. Without its metaphysical aspect (figured as presence, identification, exchange, debt, etc.), the gift would not be one. While the gift may ultimately elude or overwhelm metaphysics, it never-


Chapter 2

theless requires a certain grasping—even if held momentarily, tentatively, inadequately. In a statement that concludes a fascinating and compelling—but presently somewhat irrelevant—argument identifying a relation between Marion’s stance against metaphysics and his hierarchical ecclesialism, Webb contends: “By strenuously displacing the gift from the reach of metaphysics, Marion ends by giving the gift over to an absolute authority that correlates giving with a docile and humbling beholding, not an active return.”114 Now, from the perspective of the gift’s linearity, the inability to actively return the gift is a good thing: The impossibility of active return ensures the maintenance of the gift’s linearity. Nevertheless, there must be some sort of return: the gift’s identifiability relies on it. If the gift is not returned—even in the sense of identification or acknowledgment—then the gift cannot be recognized as such. The gift would be strictly imperceptible. Hence, the gift must not only be received but also returned—as maddening as this may be. Webb in fact accedes that Marion admits to a certain kind of return: “Marion does talk about returning the gift, but only in terms of the discourse of praise.”115 I offer here some preliminary remarks on praise, returning to it in the last chapter. To begin with, how does Webb configure the relation between the gift and (its) praise? At one point in his text he describes praise as “an excessive display of gratitude . . . ,” but this is by no means a criticism, as long as praise also leads to action: “Certainly, praise is an appropriate response to such gratuitous giving, but the momentum of the gift solicits a praise that leads into action, not just attitude.” While one sympathizes with and admires this proactive position, one wonders whether—or to what degree—it implies a certain coerciveness: One should not only praise, but also do something in return. The gift not only solicits singing its praises but also a chain reaction. More significantly, I wonder whether praise is—or necessarily needs to be—“an excessive display of gratitude.” I propose that praise may more properly reflect the gift’s gratuity in its less mercantile response: Its joyousness differentiates it from more burdensome responses like worshipping, tithing, etc. Praise is more of a recognition than a response, or, perhaps more accurately, an act of festive acknowledgment rather than an openly active return or countergift. Praise responds more than it returns, though it is a kind of return nevertheless—a “softer” return, perhaps. After all, some responses seem to be more explicitly compensatory than others. What remains certain is that praise is a kind of return: Since Webb admits that Marion expresses praise in such terms, then any assertion that Marion exclusively promotes reception-without-return is inaccurate. The overwhelming gift is received but also “returned”—in the form of praise. Now, Marion’s stance against metaphysics opens onto an ecological problem, implied in the large citation from Webb that introduces the present section. To recall, one of his statements reads: “God’s giving obliterates any sign of

A Brief History of Gifts


either a given or a receipt.” Obviously, Webb’s vocabulary of destruction is exaggerated. However, even though Marion’s theology of distance is aimed at a destabilization of the idolization of being, one is left wondering how this distancing could affirm the ontic. In other words, Marion’s focus on ontology (as an inadequate site for theology) and divinity (as that which is otherwise than being/s) leaves his theology vulnerable in terms of how it relates to ecology (and oikology). While Marion’s thinking of divine gifting certainly respects the difference between deity and “thatness,” how can “whatness” be affirmed in the face of this difference? In other words, does Marion’s theology yield any ecological insights? How can the matrix of beings be acknowledged and embraced in the face of this daunting distance? In sum, how could Marion’s theology of distance be related to an ecotheological aporetics of what-is? It is interesting to note that the risk involved in separating the effort to think divinity by transgressing a thinking of being manifests itself in Webb’s own work: “Marion helps us understand how the gifting God differs from the God of the philosophers—how, that is, the question of the gift needs to be disentangled from the question of what is . . .”116 Now, we recognize that Marion powerfully demonstrates how the divine would, by definition, exceed ontological circumscription; nonetheless, should the question of the gift be disentangled from the question of what-is? While Marion certainly helps us to understand the difference between theology and ontotheology, the question of receiving and responding to creation reentangles the question of the gift and what-is, for what is being posed in the present study is the possibility of creation’s giftness. But does this possibility entail abandoning Marion’s powerful critique of metaphysics? Certainly not: A double movement is required. The task of post-metaphysical disentanglement needs to be complemented by a task of ecotheological reengagement. Both-and. As much as one should emphasize divinity’s distance from being/s, one should nevertheless and simultaneously move in the opposite or alternative direction: If the material web of creation is (co)gift-ed by divinity in some sense, then there is a relation between divine giver(s) and corporeal recipients that interrupts any nonrelation characterized by radical distance and difference. In other words, the traditional notion that creation is a gift freely given by God interrupts the absolute distance emphasized by Marion. The creation-gift is precisely the question that interminably and immemorially entangles the relation between our selves and our giver (if there is any).

Paralyzed by the Aporia The preceding retracing of the word “gift” and its reflections in Christian texts spells out several aspects to the question of the gift as a problem. First, the word


Chapter 2

“gift” is, from a biblical perspective, a semantically saturated term. It is registered in events as antithetical as bribery and grace. Second, these divergent meanings of the gift carry over into the history of theology. On those rare moments when theologians refer to, or, even more rarely, ponder the gift itself, they cite either of its two competing aspects, and sometimes even simultaneously acknowledge both. However, Christian thought did not appear to explicitly dwell on the gift in all its aporeticity. Twentieth-century theology, on the other hand, produced sustained reflections on the gift. Schmitz’s book on the creation-gift, published before Derrida’s Given Time, explicitly and admirably grapples with the gift’s aporeticity. Schmitz thinks the gift in its sheer gratuity and in its lived experience. He employs a lexicon of moderation to come to terms with the gift, but his thinking oscillates between pronouncing and downplaying its two aspects. With Webb’s post-Derridean meditation on the gift, his insightful analysis and mediation of squandering helps illuminate the aporia. Nevertheless, Webb’s analysis of gratitude is somewhat problematic, as is his theology of gifting inadvertently seems to accentuate the gift’s aporeticity. Marion’s theological recollections of gifting during his reflection on the prodigal, in which the gift’s circularity is emphasized, also raise questions. Webb’s critique of Marion’s emphasis on excess likewise demonstrates ways in which the gift-aporia entangles thought. With these admirable meditations on the gift come inevitable paralyses. And this is to be expected—and even appreciated—when one thinks and dwells in the gift-aporia. What remains to be done during this brief history of the gift-aporia is to analyze Marion’s philosophical work: Does his phenomenology succeed in dissolving the tension—or does it reinforce it?


Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


n the last section of chapter 2, I engaged with the ways in which twentiethcentury theologians (Schmitz, Webb, and Marion) have figured the gift. I noted in my introductory remarks on Marion’s work that he also offers a philosophical account of the gift. This account arises out of his effort to develop a phenomenology of givenness. With the publication of Marion’s most important philosophical works, Reduction and Givenness and Being Given, the correlated questions of the given and the gift are worked out: “With Reduction and Givenness, the question of the gift turned out to be profoundly modified for me by the discovery of the issue of givenness, Gegebenheit, in phenomenology . . .”1 As the present chapter illustrates, Marion’s modification turns out to be profound in its radical refiguration of the gift, for he describes a gift that is released from its element of exchange. But does this dissolution turn out to be a solution? To begin with, we need to think the nature of the relation between the given and the gift—a relation and a differentiation that opens the present study. To begin with, we note that theology has rarely explicitly thought this relation. An exception is found with Augustine, for he recognizes a semantic difference between the gift and the given: “There is a difference in meaning between a gift and a thing that has been given. For a gift may exist even before it is given; but it cannot be called a thing that has been given unless it has been given.”2 I will take up the question of the semantic difference in due course, but this much may be stated regarding Augustine’s remark: According to a Derridean aporetics, a gift would also have to be given (received, reciprocated, exchanged) in order for it to be recognized as such. Hence, Augustine’s differentiation is problematic insofar as it does not identify the gift’s element of identification. Centuries later, Schmitz offers an account of this nonrelation, examining the predominant way in which “the given” is regarded nowadays and how it obscures the significance of perceiving creation as a gift: “The chief obstacle to a better appreciation of the category of the gift is a widespread current attitude towards the world; it is the attitude that takes the world as a given fact.”3 He examines 63


Chapter 3

the phrase “given fact” conjointly, and argues that its meaning is not obvious: “They [‘given’ and ‘fact’] combine to form the first name we give to what we encounter. Moreover, in scientific and learned discourse and in everyday speech as well, this initial name proves ultimately decisive and presides over most subsequent understanding of the world, so that our thought seldom breaks free from this first determination of the things that are.”4 Schmitz’s point is both obvious and incisive. But does this criticism apply to the present work? While I begin the meditation by figuring creation as a “given fact,” I do not thereby elevate the status of the given—I state that what we know for sure is that creation is a given. But a reverse hierarchical dualization would ensue (giftness “over” givenness) if I decided to “break free” from the determination of givennes: This aporetics takes a willing leap, but it is neither an escape from nor a reversal of the “first determination” of givenness. There is no need for choosing or displacing here. Both-and. Now, Schmitz also detects a difference between stating that some thing is “there” and stating it is “given”: Something seems to be added with the latter term.5 He immediately introduces another coupling: the given (French: donnée; Latin: datum) and the gift (don; donum, respectively), to signal a relation between givenness and giftness. Schmitz wants to revive this relation, after first retracing the way in which this pair has become increasingly estranged. He notes how “the given” is utilized by empiricist philosophy, the positive sciences, and technology; the “given” indicates agreement (e.g., “given that . . .”). The given is understood as “a starting-point for scientific discourse” and “accepted for the sake of the use that can be made of it.” He also explains the way in which “the given” is figured instrumentally: “The cast of mind is towards future developments and results.” He recognizes that scientific discourse produces a “paradoxical usage” of “given.” It excludes reference to a giver and denotes self-completion: “An epistemology that limits itself to data does not permit the knower to go ‘behind’ or ‘beneath’ the given in search of an ontological cause . . .”6 Schmitz adds: “The givenness of the given remains inviolate in such discourse, and admits of no giver within its semantic field. . . . [T]he term [‘given’] enjoys a certain absolution from the conditions of explanation and interference just because it lies prior to them as their starting-point . . .”7 To be sure, this is not simply an outright criticism of the way “given” is figured by the predominant discourses of our time, for Schmitz is willing to register the positive results of the way in which these discourses construe the given, and he recognizes the advantages of understanding the given as a starting-point, with their remarkable achievements. Nevertheless, he explains how there is a risk that this determination may block the passage from the given to the gift (or vice versa): “It needs to be said that such a domain of discourse [the natural sci-

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


ences, empiricist philosophy, technology, etc.] is not the only domain; and that such a mode of discourse closes out the more primitive semantic atmosphere that arises before us as we reflect upon the gift rather than upon the given.”8 Schmitz’s concern is certainly justified here. The possibility that there has been a “closing out” with the rise of modern science, and its positivistic, scientistic excesses, would be evidenced by the incredulity that likely marks the reception of the present reflection: Can every-thing really be a gift? According to the issues raised by Schmitz’s discourse, particularly the positing of the given as a “first determination” and the question of an “ontological cause,” how does Marion figure this relation? Unlike Schmitz—who writes his book as a theologian—Marion writes Being Given as a phenomenologist (for whom credal commitments may be thereby suspended), and so he revels in the notion of givenness as a “first determination”: “What shows itself first gives itself—this is my one and only theme” and “To show implies letting appearances appear in such a way that they accomplish their own apparition, so as to be received exactly as they give themselves.”9 Straightaway, one recognizes that Marion will, contra Schmitz, suspend the question of an “ontological cause” that is “behind” or “beneath” the given. Nonetheless, the issue of whether Marion privileges the given over the gift is a more ambiguous question, one that will be broached in due course. So how does Being Given describe the givenness of given things? Marion instructs that “[g]ivenness can only appear indirectly, in the fold of the given . . .”10 On the face of it, Marion’s thesis seems self-evident: Why shouldn’t phenomena be described according to the manner in which they show themselves in their self-giving? But his thinking is also radical. That which appears has hitherto been phenomenologically figured according to the horizons of objectness (as an object) and beingness (as a being in its being). Marion seeks to move beyond the phenomenologies of Edmund Husserl and Heidegger, who respectively define phenomena in terms of objectness and beingness. Marion’s analysis of a painting according to a thinking of givenness clarifies his project. He explains that a painting is more than the sum of its parts; nor can the givenness of the work be disclosed in terms of its various functions and values. Horner elucidates: “The painting implies a painter or several painters, as well as spectators, an intention to paint, materials used, and so forth.”11 Another way of approaching a painting is that its being discloses something like beauty or truth—but Marion argues that even this approach is metaphysical: The work of art is still thought to have an end.12 So what does a painting reveal, according to Marion? He can only describe the givenness disclosed in a visible given in nonvisible terms: The painting expresses its “melody” or “effect.”13 Marion figures this indescribable melody with some finesse: “To the ontic visi-


Chapter 3

bility of the painting is added as a super-visibility, ontically indescribable—its upsurge,” or, “a coming-up, an arising . . .”14 He elaborates: “To different degrees but always, the painting (like every phenomenon) does not show any object nor is it presented as a being; rather it accomplishes an act—it comes forward into visibility.”15 Exemplary phenomena without objectness include time, life, and language; phenomena without beingness include death, sense, and silence. Marion cites Cézanne: “Only the objects that we make a habit of dealing with every day have a totally superficial effect on a man [sic] of middling sensibility. Those by contrast that we see for the first time have, unfailingly, a certain effect on us.”16 Of course, Cézanne’s comment, together with Marion’s phenomenological endorsement and elaboration, is here enthusiastically registered and extended by inspiring a persistent perception of phenomena as if “for the first time.” Marion’s example of a painting described according to the horizon of givenness indicates the way in which Marion seeks to understand phenomena. He wants to release the phenomenon (be it a painting or anything else) from the constraints of metaphysical thinking: “The given phenomenon always shows itself too broadly for the scope of our grasp” and phenomena therefore “slip from the sway of cause and the status of effect.”17 He also criticizes, in a way that is implicitly or potentially ecological, the hitherto prevailing climate in which metaphysics has privileged “logical and mathematical phenomena” over “daily” phenomena, which include “the beings of nature, the living in general, the historical event, the face of the Other . . .”18 So how does Marion describe gifting according to the nonmetaphysical thinking of givenness? He prefaces his phenomenological description of the gift with the following statement (figured as a question): “Why not suppose that the gift . . . can, once purified of its empirical blossoming, provide at least the outline of a noncausal, nonefficient, and finally nonmetaphysical model of givenness?”19 Marion thereby seeks to “purify” the gift of causality, thereby rendering it the freedom to show itself as it gives itself. Elsewhere, he claims: “The gift only becomes itself by breaking away from the economy . . .”20 In other words, Marion argues against or beyond the everyday, metaphysical understanding of the gift (something freely given by a giver to a receiver) in which the gift, figured according to the natural attitude, is governed by causality and the principle of sufficient reason: “The giver gives the gift in the role of efficient cause, mobilizing a formal and a material cause (in order to define, reify the gift), and pursuing a final cause (the good of the givee and/or the glory of the giver). These four causes enable givenness to satisfy the principle of sufficient reason.”21 Marion allows the gift to show itself without metaphysical overlay by bracketing or “reducing” the gift from an economic horizon to a horizon of

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


givenness.22 What is meant by “reduction” in the phenomenological sense? Setting aside the question of a thing’s “actual” existence, the reduction focuses on the phenomenon’s appearance to consciousness. The reduction to givenness entails the removal of economic exchange from the gift, for, as Marion contends—and spurred on by Derrida’s reflection—exchange economy is the source of the gift’s annulment.23 This means that, by bracketing at least one of the elements of gifting (giver, recipient, and gift), one is able to disable the metaphysical chain giver-gift-recipient. We now turn to an analysis of this triadic reduction.

Me—The Indebted Givee? Marion begins by bracketing the recipient (or “givee”). The inclusion of the givee in the phenomenon of gifting would disqualify it on two counts. First, the recipient may become the cause of the cause, thereby refiguring the gift as an effect. Marion argues that the gift may arise in the context of supplication or even threat on behalf of the recipient, thereby determining the recipient as the gift’s sufficient cause, or that the recipient is denoted as the final cause, since they deserve the gift, for example, as a result of their misery or deeds.24 Second, if the recipient remains after the event of the gift, then there is the inevitability that they will be involved in the cycle of exchange. Echoing Derrida, Marion explains that the sheer recognition of the gift by the recipient reinscribes the gift in an exchange economy. Hence, in order for the gift to phenomenalize, it takes place according to what Marion calls “a law of nonreturn”: “The gift, to be given, must be lost and remain lost without return. . . . Beyond gratuity, it is a question of the pure and simple loss involved in giving with abandon.”25 This rule ensures that gifting evades causality and reciprocity, and it is enacted: “One must always give at least as if the givee never had to repay . . .”26 Marion provides the example of volunteer aid: The giver does not know the givee, and the givee cannot repay the giver. And so, the recipient responds to the gift with a response that borders on nonresponse: “There is nothing to say or do. I [the givee] benefit from the gift and cannot repay it. It therefore remains for me to accept it without any more thank-you’s.”27 Marion almost recommends sheer acceptance—but not quite; this not-quiteness is indicated by the phrase “any more.” It implies the trace of gratitude, for Marion does not recommend no thank-you’s but rather no more thank-you’s. It seems he is unwilling to abandon thanking. Like the theologians that precede him, the gift, for Marion, continues to oblige thanksgiving. When the givee is bracketed, the gift is unable to return to the giver. And yet, the donee remains indebted, a liability that is radicalized:


Chapter 3 I cannot repay, for there is no longer anyone whom I could repay. . . . [S]ince he [the givee; sic] can no longer repay anything to anybody, the givee must himself acknowledge himself as definitively in debt, therefore as intrinsically givee. . . . The debt will never be repaid, not for a lack of good will or a shortage of means, but from a lack of a creditor. . . . [T]he debt itself precedes all consciousness of it and defines its self. The self as such, the self of consciousness, receives itself at the outset as a gift (given) without giver (giving). The debt gives rise to the self such as it discovers itself already there. . . . The consciousness of owing (oneself) to the missing giver makes the self, the debt, and the consciousness of all these coincide. . . . The debt therefore designates not so much an act or a situation of the self as its state and its definition—possibly its way to be.28

Like Schmitz’s thinking of the gift and its precedence, Marion admirably destabilizes the notion of the autocratic, self-made subject: “This recognition of debt, contrary to appearances, is no small matter. At issue is what phenomenologically and morally is the hardest ordeal: to succeed in making an exception to the principle, ‘I don’t owe anything to anybody.’”29 We certainly concur that (modern) subjectivity is severely marked by this kind of phenomenologically and morally questionable “independence.” However, the following questions nevertheless present themselves: Has Marion divested the self of any degree of solvency or independence? Does this immemorial indebtedness effectively release the self from the circle of causality and debt, or does Marion’s refiguring of the giver and recipient smuggle gratitude back into the scene of the gift by another route? More specifically, does Marion imply a divine gift-giver? This last question will be broached shortly; of immediate pertinence is the fact that Marion reintroduces debt and reimbursement into the question of the gift: How may one evaluate Marion’s recollection of indebtedness? Caputo raises his concern about the return of indebtedness in Marion’s phenomenology in his closing remarks at the end of a 1997 Villanova University exchange between Marion and Derrida (published as “On the Gift”).30 Caputo’s objection is made all the more relevant in the present context because the creation-gift is evoked: I think that in Étant donné [Being Given] Marion removes the gift from the sphere of causality but my question is whether it is removed from debt. Do we not come into a universal indebtedness to God the giver, even though the gift has been released from a causal economy? . . . I worry whether we do not end up in debt in Marion. . . . Should anyone end up in debt from a gift? Should we be in debt to God for the gift of creation? If creation is a gift, then it is not a debt but something we affirm and celebrate.31

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


As I am still considering the gift-aporia per se at this stage, I defer, for now, the more “specific” question (and possibility) of the divinely (co)gift-ed creationgift and the diverging reactions of obligation and celebration. What is of immediate concern is the question of the legitimacy of liability as an appropriate response to the gift. Now, Caputo’s objection arises not only from the issues raised in the exchange itself (to which I will return in due course), but also out of an abiding concern and passion for the gift, particularly in terms of Caputo’s insistence on the gift’s gratuity, and his concomitant resistance toward its reduction to an indebting exchange. A brief retracing of certain aspects of this abiding concern is sketched here for several interrelated reasons: It provides the textual backdrop to Caputo’s Villanovian objection; it illuminates the Derridean discourse on the gift and circularity; and it offers a springboard to further discussions on the recurring question of debt and return. First of all, Caputo’s passion for the gift’s gratuity is spurred on by a lineage of thinkers who transgress the thought of the circle (discourse, system, ethics), including Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Derrida. Kierkegaard, exemplary thinker of the singular, rereads the amazing, disturbing story of the nearsacrifice of Abraham’s son (Genesis 22), and reminds us that Abraham’s response to God transgresses the ethical command to refrain from murder.32 As texts that appear almost simultaneously, Derrida’s 1992 publication Donner la mort (published in 1995 as The Gift of Death) and Caputo’s Against Ethics (1993) (followed shortly thereafter by Caputo’s The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 1997) all deal with the Abrahamic saga on Mount Moriah, substantially informed by Kierkegaard’s rereading.33 But what does that remarkable biblical event have to do with the gift? To begin with, these Derridean and Caputocean texts turn on the question of “responsibility.” Taking their cues from Kierkegaard, Derrida and Caputo stress the way in which the call of others makes a demand that transgresses the rule or nomos of the ethical community. (The pivotal term Caputo utilizes in his text is “obligation.” Since this term may be confused with “duty” and may connote calculability, I refrain from using it in the following exposition. Like Derrida, Caputo also utilizes the more nuanced term “responsibility.”)34 Now, the event on Mount Moriah is exemplary in this regard: Abraham is forced to choose between the divine command and the proscription of murder. Caputo explains why this particular event exemplifies a gifting beyond exchange (discourse, regulation, justification): Abraham silently and secretly transgresses the ethical order in his response; he seems willing to give up what he loves. According to the biblical text, Abraham’s gift exudes a “purity” insofar as nothing is to be returned; he does not expect a return. In this decisive moment of re-


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sponding to God, Caputo dramatically proclaims: “Abraham tore reason and the circle of time to shreds.”35 Of course, the ever-thoughtful Caputo acknowledges the possibility of some kind of coercive commerce at work in Abraham’s decision (fear, machismo, etc.): “After all, even Abraham’s sacrifice—is this not what deconstruction shows, even though Derrida, out of filial respect, does not bring it up?—is not absolutely safe, absolutely removed, absolutely safeguarded from hidden, subterranean, unconscious, unwanted, unwilled motivations that would turn it into the reverse of what it means to be (vouloir)? Maybe Abraham is just frightened. . . . Maybe Abraham is just being very stubborn, very macho and patriarchal!”36 Bracketing this very legitimate, very disruptive possibility, let us tentatively assume that the near-sacrifice on Mount Moriah approximates the exemplary gift in its rupture from the circle of reason-giving ethics. A link is thereby—and somewhat paradoxically—identified between the gift and responsibility: “The religious is the responsibility of the subject to the wholly other, which is precisely what Levinas calls the ‘ethical.’ Derrida’s difference with Levinas, his Kierkegaardianism, lies in his willingness to sacrifice ‘ethics,’ both the word and the concept, which for Derrida and Kierkegaard (and Heidegger)—means the calculability of obligation . . .”37 The scope of responsibility is expanded beyond the domain of the religious: “There is no assured and rigorous concept of responsibility, no rigorous formula, to regulate our lives in ethics, politics, or international diplomacy.”38 In our everydayness, we try to respond responsibly to each other in each other’s singularity without recourse to stringent regulations. Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling discloses a second instance of gifting: It alludes to Matthew 6 (giving alms in secret). In the final chapter of The Gift of Death, Derrida (following Nietzsche—to whom we will return shortly) provides an incisive critique of Matthean gifting. To begin with, Matthew 6 resembles secretive Abrahamic gifting insofar as Matthew instructs that almsgiving is to be enacted secretly (Mt 6.1-2a): Secrecy, being a fundamental characteristic of the tight-lipped giving that takes place on Mount Moriah (Abraham kept his mouth shut), is an action (or in-action) that resists or displaces gifting’s figures of circularity (discourse, justification, etc.). But Matthew immediately throws calculation into the equation: Hypocritical almsgivers “have received their award” (Mt 6.2b), while secretive givers will be rewarded by the all-seeing God (Mt 6.4b, 6.6b, 16.18b, etc.). It turns out that Matthean faith is commercial (calculating, accumulative) and excessive (secret, gratuitous). To be sure, we sympathize with any criticism of the Gospel’s blatant doublehandedness. However, as will be shown in due course, this critique can advance toward a more fruitful, affirmative understanding of this doublesidedness.

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


Forgiving and Forgetting Now, one of the places where Caputo takes up Derrida’s Nietzschean criticism of calculative religiosity is in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. In that text, the critique of Matthean mercantilism extends to Paul: Caputo questions the Pauline notion of humanity’s infinite debt to God (a debt payable only by Jesus), a notion that, according to Caputo, falls “under the cover of the beautiful name of ‘gift’ (gratia).”39 This expression of debt is powerfully criticized: “Growing in faith is a capital growth fund, an infinite extension of a (very) longterm credit line which entitles the believer to draw upon the credits that are accumulated for him [sic] by the infinite contribution to the fund made by Christ’s sacrificial death.”40 Caputo’s critique echoes Nietzsche’s, which is cast in terms of Christianity’s Geniestreich (stroke of genius), as Nietzsche calls it: “God himself sacrifices himself for the guilt of mankind, God himself makes payment to himself, God as the only being who can redeem man from what has become unredeemable from man himself—the creditor sacrifices himself for his debtor, out of love (can one credit that?), out of love for his debtor!”41 Before we can even begin to work through this stroke of genius, it should be emphasized that Caputo’s Nietzschean critique should not be misunderstood as an outright refusal of Pauline gifting: Employing a vocabulary of degree, Caputo prudently advocates a less circular gifting, a “slightly de-Paulinized and more Jewish” gifting, a gifting that moves beyond the economy of sin and redemption. Now, while we certainly appreciate the nuanced nature of this evidently edifying call, it is not unproblematic. To begin with, having retraced biblical instances of gifting, we can immediately offer the counterclaim that, apart from the very rare cases of (purportedly) unconditional gifting (exemplified by the Abraham of Mount Moriah), Judaism—and certainly not just Judaism—has overwhelmingly participated in a gifting that has leaned heavily on the side of return and reciprocity, to the extent that certain instances of gifting come very close to (or pass for) bribery. Second, the retracing also illustrates how and why the Pauline treatment of the gift is more complicated than Caputo’s remark may imply: On the one hand, one could read the Pauline—and certainly not just the Pauline—strand of Christianity as consolidating the circularity of the gift with its Geniestreich, and this act of consolidation lends weight to Caputo’s remark; however, in his invocation of indescribable grace, Paul also registers the gift’s excess. Acknowledging that Paul does not explicitly articulate the gift’s doubleness in his writings, one may nevertheless propose that, by explicitly (and perhaps inaugurally) articulating the gift’s radical gratuity, he thereby points toward the gift’s doubleness. (Whether this disclosure is intentional or otherwise


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matters little here.) Hence, one may argue that it is Paul who, via his reflections on indescribable grace, figures prominently in the promotion of the gift’s noncircularity. It is precisely Paul’s figurations of divine gifting—as well as those moments of Christic graciousness—that definitively draw out its miraculous gratuity. Insofar as Paul attempts to inspire God-imaged, Christ-imitating humans to gift more graciously, then one may tentatively advocate that he is a decisive figure in the displacement of gifting’s mercantilism. While it may be problematic to attribute Christianity’s Geniestreich to any one figure, there is little doubt as to its historical pervasiveness. To the extent that the logic of circularity in the Pauline corpus has informed “Christendom” (to employ Kierkegaard’s useful but not unproblematic term), Christianity’s historical manifestation has been marred and epitomized by revenge and calculation, so our gifting should be more “Jewish”—if by “Jewish” we mean a more “unjustifiable” (Abrahamic), secretive (Matthean), and gracious (Christic) gifting. After all, who could honestly and impartially deny the sociocultural expression and permeation of Christianity’s Geniestreich? Who could insist that Christians and Christendom have offered the other cheek often enough? Who could maintain that Christians—especially those Christians in positions of power—have been Christ-like enough? In light of (the perception of) the heavily circular determination of the Christian denominations, Caputo rightly advocates a Christic path of “forgiving” and “for-getting.”42 Caputo prayerfully recites: “Forgive us as indeed we forgive others. . . . Dismiss our debts as we dismiss our debtors.”43 Whereas the Marion of God without Being stresses the authoritativeness of the father-figure in the story of the prodigal, a “slightly de-paulinized” Christianity—one that would pay more heed to the secretive, forgetful, cheek-turning side of Christianity —would embrace and celebrate the prodigal’s return. This entails paying more heed to the perhaps less-attended and even somewhat forgotten side of religion: Its uncalculatingness, its graciousness, its forgiveness. Caputo’s call is made in the face of his opposition to burdensome ethics; he argues, with typical conviction and quite convincingly, that dutiful ethics burdens the prodigal subject: It “gives the subject a beating, while forgiving gives it a break.”44 Caputo meditates on the famous “Forgive us as we forgive others” (Mt 6:12; the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible [NRSV] reads: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”). Inspiringly, he declares: “We give our credit away absolutely, unconditionally, without the expectation of return. God supplies the rest, the supplement we dare not desire, which can be granted only if we do not desire it, only if we put it out of our minds. The yield of giving is more giving. Giving gives giving. . . . [S]o forgiving breeds forgiveness and breaks the circle, the cycle of vengeance, and, beyond vengeance,

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


of simple debt.”45 Before one begins to assume that Caputo is about to jettison circularity altogether, he issues a proviso: “Forgiveness is the ultimate release from all economies, from every economic tie, but not into a simple exteriority from the circle. Rather, forgiving loosens the circle of credit and debt, not only from the debt that chains the other with the tie of my calculated gift, but also from the debt that makes my relation to the other one of debt.”46 Caputo argues that the crux of “forgive us as indeed we forgive others” lies in the “as indeed” (hos kai): It signifies a “reciprocal for-giving, important and impossible. . . . To forgive as we are forgiven, to love as we are loved . . .”47 Caputo’s employment of the word “reciprocal” is noteworthy on a number of counts. To begin with, we note that reciprocity is a mode of circularity—which may seem to count against Caputo’s uncalculating forgiveness. However, according to Caputo (and I concur), reciprocity seems to be a less stringent (and even curative) kind of circularity. Once again, it signals that Caputo does not purely and simply reject circularity—though he certainly challenges it in its most binding, burdensome forms. Furthermore, the summons to reciprocity resonates ecologically: Since ecology recognizes and affirms our relationality, reciprocity reflects and promotes our interconnectivity; to reciprocate, after all, is to acknowledge and cherish our interrelationality. Exchange-as-reciprocity (which is discussed in more detail in chapter 4) is therefore a more open, relaxed, and ecoaffirmative kind of exchange—both economically and ecologically. Now, to forgive (countlessly)—what could be more admirable, more divine? However, like the gift itself, forgiveness raises questions and problems. Fundamentally, does forgiveness elude the circularity that marks gifting? I draw on Alenka Zupancˇicˇ’s excellent treatment of Nietzsche’s illuminating thoughts in this regard as it appears in her book The Shortest Shadow.48 Having referred to Christianity’s Geniestreich, Zupancˇicˇ immediately admits: “It is true that there is also a rather different notion present in Christianity, a notion much closer to Nietzsche’s own position—namely, the notion of mercy as situated ‘beyond law’ (Jenseits des Rechts)49—the law being an exemplary figure of the circle. Mercy transgresses extremely circular guilt and punishment; it is not just forgiveness but is determinative of a certain “power” and “richness.”50 In Zupancˇicˇ’s words: “The creditor becomes more human to the extent that he grows richer: so that, finally, how much injury he can endure without suffering from it becomes the actual measure of his wealth. Such a creditor can now allow himself the noblest luxury possible: letting those who harm him go unpunished. . . . letting those who are incapable of discharging their debt go free.”51 We should, of course, remember that elements of a more merciful logic appear in the writings of Matthew and Paul, even though it can be obscured by the more heavily economistic strands in their writings. Nevertheless, the indispensability


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of the Nietzschean corrective stands for a religiosity—and not just Christian religiosity—which often becomes onesidedly calculating and even vengeful. Perhaps an even more incisive Nietzschean observation is the critique of forgiveness. As surprising as it initially sounds, Nietzsche argues that one must attempt to move beyond forgiving, for forgiving is itself involved in commerce. Zupancˇicˇ explains: “Forgiveness has a perverse way of involving us even further in debt. To forgive somehow always implies to pay for the other, and thus to use the very occurrence of injury and its forgiveness” as the reimplication of circularity.52 Zupancˇicˇ powerfully directs this criticism toward Christianity in a way that parallels Nietzsche, and deserves to be quoted at length: This is the fundamental perversity of Christianity: while forgiving, it simultaneously brandishes at us the cross, the instrument of torture, the memory of the one who paid for us. Christianity forgives, but does not forget. One could say that, with the eyes of the sinner fixed on the cross, forgiving creates a new debt in the very process of this act. It forgives what was done, but it does not forgive the act of forgiving itself. On the contrary, the latter establishes a new bond and a new debt. . . . The debt is no longer brought about by our actions; it is brought about by the act of forgiving us these actions. We are indebted for forgiveness.

How, then, to overcome forgiving? By forgetting. Perhaps forgetting is an even more “ultimate release from all economies” than forgiving (Caputo’s words; cited above). In the same book that treats debt, mercy, and forgiveness (On the Genealogy of Morals), Nietzsche argues for a certain forgetting. (Interestingly, Caputo also recalls forgetting when he quips: “forget it [debt].”53) To begin with, memory is related to the pain that haunts us: “If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory.”54 Rather than internalizing pain, forgetfulness allows pain to remain external. Nietzsche cites Mirabeau (1749–1791), a French Revolutionary statesperson and writer, as an excellent example of the forgetful subject, for he “had no memory for insults and vile actions done to him and was unable to forgive simply because he—forgot.”55 And, yes, Nietzsche also cites himself as one who “knows how to forget.”56 In Unfashionable Observations, Nietzsche elaborates on the notion of forgetting or “oblivion,” arguing that memory inhibits both happiness and action: “Anyone who cannot forget the past entirely and set himself down on the threshold of the moment . . . will never know what happiness is. . . . All action requires forgetting. . . . [I]t is possible to live almost without memory, indeed to live happily, as the animals show us; but without forgetting, it is utterly impossible to live at all.”57 Zupancˇicˇ articulates this thought for forgiving and forgetting: “Whenever something important happens to us and incites our passion, we tend to forget and dismiss the grudges and resentments

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


we might have been nurturing before. Instead of ‘forgiving’ those who might have injured us in the past, we forget and dismiss these injuries.”58 It appears that this sense of forgetting offers a remarkable way out of the liability that marks both gifting and forgiving. But two aporias immediately present themselves. First of all, what is the nature of this “forgetting”? How does one learn to forget? Or is it a matter of disposition?—which would make forgetting contingent. Furthermore, even if we were to admit the possibility of forgetting, I would suggest that its introduction fails to dissolve the gift-aporia, although it does seem to offer a way of reducing the severity of the gift’s circularity, particularly when it comes to things like religious indebtedness. Why doesn’t forgetting resolve the aporia? To begin with, if the recipient forgets in the Nietzschean sense, there always remains the possibility of a sudden manifestation of resentment, thereby disclosing or launching a circularity that may always already be there. But more importantly, whether the recipient forgets or remembers, the gift will always involve a degree of memory—no matter how minute— by virtue of its recognition: The gift always already returns in some sense in the very act of gifting. No amount of forgiving or forgetting can undo this interactivity. Even a literal, radical forgetting does not solve the dilemma. The moment the gift is recognized as such, an exchange takes place; whether the gift is radically forgotten or persistently remembered may affect the degree of burden placed by indebtedness or return, but the exchange indubitably takes place, thereby preserving the gift’s duality. And so, whether we forgive and/or forget, the gift-aporia remains.

Crediting Christianity’s Geniestreiche Now, Caputo’s, Nietzsche’s and Zupancˇicˇ’s reflections on a more forgiving and forgetful gifting are persuasive and moving, inspired as they are by Christic excess and its articulation by gifted, often “anti-Christian” thinking that remembers grace and forgets forgiveness. The calls for mercy and oblivion displace the prevalence and predominance of calculative and indebting gifting that marks religions and societies. Caputo’s deconstructive theology of donation certainly emphasizes the gift’s excess over its return. From the perspective of a forgiving, less calculating theology, it is little wonder, then, that the concerned, impassioned Caputo presses Marion—who does not seem troubled by being indebted—with that burning question: “Should we be in debt to God for creation?” But should duty and debt lose their claim as legitimate responses to the gift? This startling question—made starker by having just discussed gracious, miraculous forgiving and forgetting—may be broached by returning to the notion of Geniestreich, which is recalled by Caputo himself when he takes up the


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issue of liability in his thought-provoking commentary on the Villanova exchange, “Apostles of the Impossible,” specifically in a section titled “Economy and Debt.”59 To begin with, Caputo explains that “Marion and Derrida have very different conceptions of just what constitutes an ‘economy’ of the gift . . .”60 The former is “willing to settle for a higher economy, just so long as this economy is not implicated in causality, in causal agents and effects.” And yet: “Marion does not dispute the contention that from the very moment that any of the three elements of the gift [giver, givee, gift] appear the movement of debt is set in motion.” We remain in arrears: Marion recalls an “indebting givenness (la donation endettant).”61 This movement “does not present a problem to Marion because debt enters into the very definition of the gift for him—‘donability,’ he says, means the duty (devoir) to give—while for Derrida debt is poison to the gift, Vergiftung, and the very definition of economy, which annuls the gift.” Why isn’t this movement of donability problematic for Marion? Caputo argues: “For Marion to escape economy it is enough to give a non-objectivistic phenomenological description of the gift outside the chain of the four causes (efficient, formal, material, and final), while for Derrida the defining feature of an economy of exchange is the link or chain between credit and debt, even if the chain (catena, cadeau [gift]) is composed of invisible-moral links, not causal or objectivistic ones.”62 Caputo explains that the projects of the two thinkers are different: Marion attempts to avoid the metaphysical pitfalls of Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology; Derrida, on the other hand, attends to the question of Christianity’s disparate movements of return and excess. Christian giving and forgiving is propelled by an uncalculating love, and yet it is nevertheless restrained by a calculative logic that extends all the way to heaven: “Derrida has [Nietzsche’s] Genealogy of Morals in mind. Derrida is worried about the contamination of credere, faith in the gift, by credit, which makes the gift a medium of exchange and so destroys its credibility as a gift, even and especially in celestial matters, which is the point of the analysis in the last chapter of The Gift of Death.” (Note the word “contamination”—a thematic to be examined in due course.) Caputo sums up the difference between the two: “Marion is worrying about causality, Derrida about credit” so that “what most deeply divides Marion and Derrida, and the reason why any appearance at all of the gift, however partial, catches it up in economy for Derrida while not posing any problem of economy to Marion, is the appearance of debt.” For this reason, Caputo regrets the fact that the question of arrears was not raised at the exchange: “The one point that I would like to have heard next addressed is just this question of debt. For that, in my view, is central to the difference between Marion and Derrida.” Now, Caputo directs this question into the domain of subjectivity, even though he agrees with Marion and Derrida that “the true gift must come after

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


[or before] the subject.” (We note that “true” may also stand here for a certain “purity” as opposed to any “contaminated” gift.) Caputo recalls Derrida’s point about the incompatibility between debt (in the form of duty and obligation) and the (“pure”) gift. In other words, a gift should be given freely—by definition. Hence, one is forced to ask: How can a tithe, for example, be a gift? Gifting, as we know it, exceeds circularity.63 Qualifying his remarks with phrases like “for Derrida” and “from Derrida’s point of view,” Caputo questions why the element of debt is factored into Marion’s thinking of gifting. After all, duty is to practical reason what causality is to speculative reason. So how would Marion address Caputo’s weighty concerns? Caputo surmises: “Marion would respond that we are indebted not to another donor but to donation itself, to the horizon of givenness by whose momentum giver and donee are carried along . . .”64 Speaking for Derrida, Caputo responds that indebtedness to the anonymous still undoes the gift. What’s more, this “creditor” (“donation itself”) burdens us with an “insoluble debt. . . .” Understandably, Caputo opposes this kind of burden: “If we have been loved and given gifts, we ought not to be plunged into a horizon of infinite insolvent debt.” Otherwise, one reprises Christianity’s questionable stroke of genius: the unpayable debt incurred by humanity for the divine crucifixion. The powerful passage, which completes the section on “Economy and Debt,” bears repeating in its totality: For the Derrida of The Gift of Death, Marion plays into the hands of Nietzsche’s barb about Christianity’s Geniestreich, its stroke of genius. Cur deus homo? [Why did God become human?] Because God must be paid what God is owed, and God wants blood, infinitely precious blood, to pay off an infinite, incalculable debt, to spill sacred sacrificial blood to offset the absolute insolvency of the sinner. It seems as if God saw everything He [sic] made and said that it was guilty and in insolvent debt, which calls for a blood economy. Who could believe that, Derrida asks with Nietzsche? [The Gift of Death, 114–15] For a Derridean theology, it would seem that the God of gifts, the gift of God, and the gift of God in Jesus are to be thought not in terms of insolvent debt but in terms of giving without debt and in forgiving what debts accumulate. . . . Debts are for forgiving, not accumulating. According to the New Testament, the only calculation forgiving allows is that one should forgive seven times a day, and seventy times seven [Mt. 18.22], that is to say, innumerably, countlessly, incontestably. That would seem to be, from Derrida’s point of view, the real Geniestreich of Jesus.65

To begin with, it seems undeniable that Marion “plays into the hands of Nietzsche’s barb” when he introduces indebtedness and thankfulness into his phenomenology of the gift-recipient. This playing-into appears to be an in-


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evitable consequence of thinking gifting when an acknowledgment of its circularity is rendered. Doubtlessly, the recourse to restitution is generally resisted by Marion—like Nietzsche, he wants to evacuate the gift of exchange. In other words, Marion seems to reintroduce return inadvertently. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t pursue any reintroduction of a logic of sacrifice—on the contrary, he wants to distance Christianity from any such reasoning. Marion’s drive for a “pure” (Christian) receptivity is substantiated in Being Given. He objects to the exchangism in a revered thinker like Anselm, thereby lending weight to the Nietzschean criticism of the Geniestreich: “It must be remarked that when a theologian of Anselm’s caliber dares to think the Incarnation in terms of satisfaction—the dignified exchange between the fault for sin and its retribution in the Redemption (Cur Deus homo, I: 12)—he finds himself bearing the brunt of objections that are all the stronger as they remain strictly theological. The model of the gift as transcendent exchange cannot stand, especially not in revealed theology.”66 This passage exemplifies Marion’s commitment to an incredibly nonmercantile gifting, to gifting that has nothing to do with exchange economy. However, circularity nevertheless returns during those moments when Marion acknowledges indebtedness and thankfulness. His thinking thereby remains entangled in the gift-aporia. On the one hand, he attempts to transgress the circle; on the other, he reintroduces it. Now, despite appearances, this entanglement, when encountered from the perspective of a gift aporetics, provides an opening when thinking through Christianity’s Geniestreich (and vice versa). To begin with, we recall with Caputo that the received stroke of Christian genius is its burdensome liability— and one cannot deny the prevalence of this logic of atonement and redemption throughout Christendom. Caputo goes on to explain that Derrida’s Nietzschean critique discloses a radically noncircular genius: Jesus’ “real Geniestreich” is his inspiringly uncalculating for-giving. What we have here, then, are two Geniestreiche, where the former is a bit of an imposter—at least when compared to Jesus’ genuinely ingenious genius. One is tempted to choose the latter: We lovers of gratuity, forgiveness, and forgetfulness are obviously attracted to it, particularly in an age of uncompromising and all-consuming global capitalism— where everything seems to have its price and condition. However, if we remain faithful to the gift in all its aporeticity—thereby denying any outright denial of circularity—then we should acknowledge both species of genius: While the exceptionally gracious modes of Abrahamic and Christic gifting move us (and remind us) of a more miraculous gifting, the Matthean and Pauline modes seem more striking insofar as they explicitly exhibit both excess and calculation. While the former modes are certainly stirring in their (purported) “purity,” the latter are stunning by virtue of their paradoxicality.

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


What, then, if Christ/Christianity’s really “real Geniestreich” would be its disclosure of the gift in all its dazzling doublesidedness (un/conditional, un/calculating, un/restricted)? What if Christianity’s genius (or, at least one of its geniuses) lay in the tension between “blood economy” and indescribable grace? Its master stroke would consist of two strokes—or a doubled stroke: the culmination and transgression of the logic of exchange. Debt and its erasure, together. Translated more broadly, Christianity’s Geniestreiche would consist of the renunciation and retrieval of the legalistic Judaism that paradoxically climaxes with a gracious sacrifice that is, in turn, received thankfully, and so on. Pricey blood and priceless grace, together. Somehow. Theology’s corresponding Geniestreiche would involve the attempt to think this heterogeneity together. The gift would have to be thought along two diverging lines. To try to think gratitude and gratuity together—to think the gift’s both-and: This would be theology’s master stroke/s. Now, whether or not—and to what extent—Christians and Christendom have lived by this Geniestreiche is a rather incalculable question: How could one even begin to measure the impact and manifestation of such ingenuity? However, what we can claim immediately (and with only the slightest reservation) is that, judging by our retracing of theology’s traversal of the question of the gift, Christian discourse has not properly recognized—let alone articulated or celebrated—its own stroke of genius. Its obfuscation and omission is rather understandable: Christ/Christianity’s genius is so striking, it risks being missed by those who are struck by it.

Not Knowing Who Gives What Marion’s next phenomenological move is the suspension of the gift-giver: “Take a gift, any gift, consider it in such a way that its giver remains absent—either unknown in reality or actually undecidable—in short, let us imagine it as something like an anonymous gift whose giver is lacking. Does this gift still remain a gift?”67 This is a question—to which we can answer in the affirmative—of utmost relevance for the present reflection: This aporetics is propelled by the notion that anonymous and elusive gift-givers (e.g., God, tehom, etc.) gift creation. Now, as a phenomenologist, Marion affirms that the gift remains freely given in the context of an indeterminate giver. The decision about the giver is wholly inscribed in undecidability. Recalling Heidegger’s es gibt (“it gives”), Marion emphasizes the essential anonymity of the giver: “So that ‘it gives’ truly, the ‘it’ must still be thought in and on the basis of ‘giving’; therefore, it must remain indeterminate and anonymous as such. Otherwise, it would inevitably


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turn into a being (indeed the supreme being). The enigma of the anonymous ‘it’ is the only thing to safeguard givenness.”68 According to a phenomenology of givenness, the giver’s indeterminacy and anonymity precedes any question of cause or origin. Marion provides several examples to support the need for indeterminacy. A first instance applies to the empirically absent (or deceased) giver. The phenomenon of inheritance is offered: The recipient receives from an absent or unknown giver; but doesn’t the state receive the gift in return (by way of fees and taxes)? Yes. The inheritor repays “partially” and indirectly, but this repayment cannot be directed at the gift-giver, for the latter remains absent, lacking: “I repay partially in an economic exchange what befell me as a gift; but I do not, however, repay the one who gave me the gift . . .”69 A second instance of bracketing the giver is witnessed in the giver’s own unknowing or unawareness. Marion offers the incisive example of “the athlete, the artist, and the lover”; each of these figures gives their gift (athleticism, artistry, eros), while remaining basically unaware of what they have given, evidenced by the familiar question requesting self-assurance: Was I good? Marion’s analysis is penetrating: “This indeed is why it is so important to the giver (athlete, lover, artist) that the pleasure given be confessed, acknowledged, spoken by its beneficiary; for the giver and the giver alone knows nothing about it. He [sic] has to hear confirmation that ‘he was good,’ that ‘it was good,’ that he climbed, ran, jumped, rode, touched, caressed well. He has to be assured that he ‘gave it all’ because he alone is unaware and should be unaware. He gives himself without knowing it.”70 Thus, Marion provides another “essential law of givenness: To give, it is necessary not to know oneself if one gives.”71 Straightaway, he recalls Matthew 6.3: “‘When you give alms, let your left hand be ignorant of what your right hand does.’” (The NRSV rendering is: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. . . .”) And so, not only would recipients not know from whom they receive, givers know not what they give. Marion explains that the absence of a giver leaves the decision about the giver’s identity up to the recipient: “By its very absence, the giver gives to the givee, besides the gift, the decision to identify who gives.”72 (The words “who gives” may better represent the giver’s anonymity by its modification to “who/ what gives” or “what/who gives.”) But why is undecidability crucial? It guards against circularity. As Horner explains: “Undecidability offers some protection against return . . .”73 After all, if the giver remains unknown, then the gift remains unreturnable. While I concur that undecidability and anonymity certainly offer protection against return, one wonders whether the bracketing of the giver reduces the burden of indebtedness. As I noted above, Caputo argues that Marion’s

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


strategy of bracketing the identity of the gift-giver actually intensifies or compounds this debt: “It is trouble enough to owe an identifiable debt to an identifiable creditor, but to situate the whole of life within an horizon of insoluble debt to an anonymous donor seems even worse.”74 We countergifting creatures want to be able to redress the imbalance—but to whom/what, and how? Herein, perhaps, lies one of the solaces of religion: It “identifies” the giver/s, and it offers countergifts and repayment plans (from tithes and indulgences, thanksgiving and almsgiving, life-long service, and so on). Now, whether an identified creditor is a more attractive scenario than an anonymous one may be debatable— how to judge which insolvency is “more” severe? How to know whether anonymous creditors create more of a burden than identifiable ones? After all, as we have just noted, an identified gift-giver may be repaid—at least partially—while indeterminacy and anonymity offer a certain freedom from debt, insofar as one cannot identify, and thereby repay, creditor/s (“out of sight, out of mind”); however, this inability to pay may itself be a burden: Who wants to remain indebted? What is incontrovertible, then, is that, in both cases, the debt remains insoluble. What to do? According to the Christian Geniestreich of the “bothand,” this insolvency would be somewhat displaced—it would lose its sovereignty and loosen its severity—for it would be paradoxically paired together with its other: grace (mercy, forgiving, forgetting). The gift-recipient would remain both indebted and solvent. Or, perhaps more accurately, the recipient recognizes the irresolvable bind and learns to live with it—perhaps even affirms it and delights in it. We now turn to the third element that is phenomenologically reduced: the gift itself. As radical as it sounds, Marion provides a convincing argument for the gift to be considered otherwise than according to the horizons of beingness or objectness. Examples are given: the gifts of a promise, reconciliation, friendship, love, a blessing, curse, and so on. These irreal gifts are differentiated from the objects that symbolize them. Marion is certainly compelling when identifying gifts that exceed—or are otherwise than—the objects that represent them. He provides three examples: power, the self, and one’s word (or promise). Obviously, power is not a being or an object, but “a new and absolutely unique relation to each and every one of the uncountable and unmeasurable objects and beings.”75 In other words, the signs of power (crown, cross, keys, etc.) do not give power but merely symbolize this conferring or transferring. As for the gift of giving one’s self (carnally, in marriage, etc.), Marion maintains that a handing-over of one’s self in a context of objectification and exchange annuls the gift’s giftness: “Appropriation and exchange interpret my body as the object that, by right, it never is. . . . The objectification of my body disqualifies it as gift. The more I deliver my body in exchange for reciprocity (reimbursement, econ-


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omy), the less I give it . . .”76 The example of a wedding ring is also offered here; as with the case of power (where a crown represents the gift), the ring attests to the gift-giving. Giving one’s word also exceeds objectness or beingness: The promise affects objects but is itself irreal.77 Hence, Marion is able to declare: “It is indeed a question of a gift—the truthfulness of a word energizing the intersubjective relation—which governs objects and beings, but of a gift that itself is not given as an object or a being.”78 Therefore, the gift would exceed objectness or beingness. Incidentally, Marion also appears to express this notion in The Idol and Distance: “The gift itself consists uniquely in the act of receiving/giving, and in no other ‘content’ . . .”79 And so, the gift itself seems to evade causality and commerce—and thereby retains its freedom. Horner elucidates: “The gift, as that which ‘is decided’ (or decides itself), need not be read economically but can be appreciated simply as the given. . . . In this way Marion maintains that the gift is outside any economy, outside any causality, and outside any agency.”80 His compelling thoughts nevertheless prompt several interrelated questions. To begin with, I have already noted that Derrida argues that symbolic gifts do not elude the giftparadox: Even symbolic gifts return.81 Gift-symbols such as crowns and rings, while symbolizing gifts that are no-thing, are nevertheless identifiers of gifts (power, love) that instigate countergifts; even symbolic gifts prompt circulation. Hence, one wonders whether Marion’s phenomenology of symbolic gifts dissolves the gift’s aporeticity. Perhaps a more compelling query is how Marion’s phenomenology would negotiate the possibility that such symbolic gifts are also gifts per se? With this question we move closer to the question of the creationgift, which means that we have come full circle, not only in terms of the present chapter but also the beginning of this work: How would Marion’s thinking negotiate the possibility that every given thing is also a gift?

Given/Gift—What’s the Difference? In short, is every given a gift? Can crowns and rings be gifts themselves— irrespective of their status as symbolic or representative gifts? To be sure, there are moments in Being Given that posit an equivalence between the given and gift, between givenness and the gift, and between giving and gifting.82 But one remains unsure: As I will discuss shortly, the philosophical Marion is probably unprepared to undertake this leap of faith in a work that promotes itself as strictly phenomenological (assuming such a thing is possible). The ambiguity or undecidability in Marion’s treatment of these concepts is reflected in the commentaries that elucidate his work. Horner, for instance, recognizes the com-

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


plexity of this issue: “We enter immediately the somewhat murky waters of Marion’s debate with Derrida and [Jean] Greisch about the link between givenness, the given, and the gift.”83 In an excellent summary of Marion’s theological and phenomenological corpus, Thomas A. Carlson reflects the ambiguous relation between givenness and gifting in his work. On three occasions in his “Translator’s Introduction” to Marion’s The Idol and Distance, Carlson employs the equivocation “gift or givenness.”84 The question of this relation/nonrelation develops into a major issue—perhaps the most important—at the Villanova exchange between Derrida and Marion, and therefore warrants some discussion. The equivalence is evidenced (at least once) in the exchange itself. Marion states: “Phenomena suddenly appear as gifts or givens themselves . . .”85 There is no equivocation by Marion as to the question of whether every gift is a given (contra Augustine); the prior-ity of the given is evidenced when a phrase by Derrida, “every Gegebenheit [given] as gift,” is corrected by Marion by being reversed: “Every gift as Gegebenheit.”86 Marion affirms that every gift is a given. But what is crucial for the present enquiry is whether Marion thinks every given is also a gift. Derrida maintains the distinction between a gift and a given throughout the Villanova exchange. At the very beginning of the debate, Derrida suggests: “What we are going to discuss, that is the gift, perhaps is not homogeneous with Gegebenheit.”87 Derrida is interested in what “gift” means; he questions the “semantic continuity” between a “given” and a “gift” and emphatically recognizes their difference: “As soon as a gift—not a Gegebenheit, but a gift—as soon as a gift is identified as a gift, with the meaning of a gift, then it is canceled as a gift.”88 For Derrida—as for most or all of us (Westerners, at least)—“Gegebenheit” and “gift” do not have a semantic equivalence. He clearly follows the conventional and legitimate practice of differentiating between a “given” and a “gift.” But the question of the concordance between a “given” and a “gift” remains unclear throughout the Villanova debate, even when Marion has an opportunity to clarify the issue. At one point in the discussion, Derrida alleges that Marion’s “deepest ambition” rests on an equivalence between a given and a gift, or, more accurately, that givens are “finally” gifts from God: My hypothesis concerns the fact that you [Marion] use or credit the word Gegebenheit with gift, with the meaning of gift, and this has to do with—I will not call this theological or religious—the deepest ambition of your thought. For you, everything that is given in the phenomenological sense, gegeben, donné, Gegebenheit, everything that is given to us in perception, in memory, in a phenomenological perception, is finally a gift to a finite creature, and is finally a gift of God. . . . The logic of Étant donné, finally, to me, is to reinterpret as a gift everything that a


Chapter 3 phenomenologist—or anyone, a scientist—says is given, is a given, a fact, something that we meet in perception, given to my intuition. I perceive this; it is a given. I did not produce this. I did not create this. . . . The finite subject does not create its object, it receives it, receptively. Receptivity is interpreted as precisely the situation of the created being, the creature, which receives everything in the world as something created. So it is a gift. Everything is a gift.”89

To begin with, it is worth noting that Derrida is aware of the risk of his interpretation of Marion’s work. In the context of a carefully worded hypothesis— so carefully worded that it barely masks the insinuation that a “theological or religious” “ambition” governs Marion’s phenomenology—he ostensibly accuses Marion (who is Catholic) of being intellectually motivated by his theological disposition. Derrida is therefore suspicious about Marion’s methodological bracketing of the question of the gift-giver, and, hence, of the nature of every given as a gift. The Christian Marion, it seems, would decide that the gift-giver is God and that every given is a divinely gifted gift. Even though Marion is at pains to enact a certain phenomenological neutrality when it comes to the “what” or “who” of the giver, any informed reading would be inevitably colored by Marion’s religious predisposition. His theological works do little to help any phenomenological neutrality: In the midst of a discussion on gifting in The Idol and Distance, Marion seems to identify everything with a divine gifting: “To receive the gift of God, as gift, requires of man [sic] that he himself immediately welcome the gift in its essence—as a giving act. . . . To receive the gift amounts to receiving the giving act, for God gives nothing except the movement of the infinite kenosis of charity, that is, everything.”90 Carlson notes: “It is a passage like this, of course, that allows one to understand Derrida’s suspicion that, even in his phenomenological account of givenness, what Marion really wants to say is that everything is finally a gift from God.”91 Unfortunately, Marion does not respond to Derrida’s claim or charge. One sympathizes with Marion in his effort to separate his philosophy and theology, and it is perhaps that ambition that motivates his avoidance of—or equivocation toward—the questions of creation’s givers and the giftness of givens. Whatever sympathy or appreciation may be rendered, it is nevertheless difficult to postulate how Marion’s phenomenology may be transposed and registered in the mode of an ecology and ecotheology of gifting. Expressed differently (and in the form of a question, reflecting its tentativeness and a certain naïveté): Does Marion’s phenomenology—and perhaps phenomenology “in general”—grant too much to anonymity and undecidability and not enough to interpretation and decision? Perhaps (“pure”) phenomenology is unable to confront the question “What if creation is a gift?”

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


Thus, a first and striking feature of the exchange is Marion’s resistance to speak about the gift from a theological perspective. He states plainly: “In fact, I was interested in the gift when writing theology, some ten years ago or even more.”92 But Marion is no longer drawn to the gift, or, perhaps more accurately, if he is still interested in the gift, he resists any explicitly theological description of it—even after repeated requests by the moderator of the exchange, Richard Kearney. To his credit, Kearney repeatedly attempts to bring the discussion away from phenomenological concerns—especially the question of givenness—and asks whether there may be a “theology of the gift. Is there a Christian philosophy of the gift?”93 (Note the emphasis in the text; unquestionably, Kearney instigates the discussion on giving as well as gifting by asking Marion about “giving, gift, and givenness,” but then attempts to focus the exchange on the gift.)94 Admittedly, one may read into Marion’s statement the possibility that he feigns his present disinterest in the gift as part of a strategy to be understood as a phenomenologist (as well as, perhaps more than, a theologian). After all, “the gift” is a more theologically loaded and decidedly more “decided” notion than “the given.” However, this kind of speculation (as fascinating as it is) has little bearing in the current analysis, which takes “On the Gift” at its word. The crucial question is: Is every given a gift? Marion does not offer a definitive response. Unlike Marion, Derrida is enthusiastic about thinking gifting according to Christian thought. Of course, it would be too much to ask Derrida—who “quite rightly pass[es] for an atheist”—for a theology of the gift.95 Nevertheless, Derrida is more willing than Marion to think gifting in terms of Christian philosophy. Stated with characteristic playfulness, Derrida responds to Marion’s declared disinterest: “Contrary to Jean-Luc, I am interested in Christianity and in the gift in the Christian sense, and I would be interested in drawing conclusions in this respect.”96 In sum, Derrida, who openly wants to maintain the distinction between the gift and the given, seems more willing to think through the very Christian notion that all things are gifts. So, how would believers in the creation-gift (Christian and otherwise)— believers who recognize the gamble for what it is—negotiate this aporia? Preempting the line of thinking developed throughout the rest of the present analysis, an outline may be sketched here. Horner provides guidance in this respect, since her recourse to undecidability, decision, and aporeticity in the context of faith and theology is remarkable: “I can never know whether or not I give or whether or not I receive, but I can believe it or desire it or act as if it were possible. . . . We will never know whether God gives, or what God gives; we can only believe . . .”97 As I have emphasized from the beginning, the present aporetics follows this “as-ifness” or supposability: I unambiguously propose that “Everything is a gift,” but I recognize its tentativeness. The assumption remains mod-


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est because it is recognized as such. I recognize that my decision arises from— and proceeds through—undecidability, and that it is a decision that cannot be “verified” or “rejected” in the manner of a scientific thesis. It is a matter of faith—nothing more and certainly nothing less. While the Villanovian Marion remains elusive on the question of whether his “deepest ambition” is “theological or religious,” that is certainly my ambition. This ambition is deep but certainly not secret—nothing to be ashamed of. Shame would only result by denying or hiding this ambition. Today, there is certainly no shame in thinking tentatively, provisionally, experimentally—as long as one is willing to acknowledge it. On the contrary, can we honestly approach these kinds of issues in any other way? And so, Derrida states imprecisely in the above-quoted text the “what-if” and “as-if” upon which this thesis pivots—“imprecise” because the passage is marked by a vocabulary of certainty symbolized by the word “finally” (which is uttered three times): There is nothing “final” about the assumption of the present work (nor of deconstruction itself; Caputo, after all, reminds us that “Deconstruction, if there is such a thing, means to show that there is never a final word.”98). By definition, an assumption or possibility (if recognized as such) would always remain inconclusive and open to modification, reversal, or rejection. How could there be finality when one thinks and acts according to the gift’s if ?

Still Paralyzed Has Marion been able to resolve the gift-aporia? First of all, he certainly provides an ingenious way of removing gifting from the domain of causal economy, as well as a way of thinking that decenters the knowing subject. To be sure, his phenomenology of givenness belongs to those manners of thinking (Pascalian, Derridean, etc.) that attempt to free phenomena from the grasp of epistemological and technological totalizations. As Carlson aptly expresses it, Marion’s “central effort” is “to free the absolute or unconditional (be it theology’s God or phenomenology’s phenomenon) from the various limits and preconditions of human thought and language . . .”99 Furthermore, Marion’s noble preoccupation with the given leads to another proposition: Surely ecological and ecotheological discourses driven by the notion and phenomenon of givenness would be the most radical kind, for they would respect and cherish all things “just because” they are here/there. I concur that perhaps an ultimate or ideal perception and reception of things-in-relation would move beyond a hermeneutics of gifting to generate an ecological comportment toward each pragma: Entities’ sheer givenness would procure our respect.

Unwrapping Marion’s Gift


Nevertheless, thinking creation in terms of gift is useful and even somewhat necessary. First, why is it necessary? Its necessity rests in the undeniable play of undecidability: To exclude the possibility that what-is could be a gift (as well as a given) would not do justice to this possibility. Any exclusion of the former possibility would amount to a dogmatism in reverse. Thus, we must continue to think this possibility if we are to affirm possibility and avoid hubris. Second, why is an aporetic hermeneutic of the creation-gift not only necessary but also useful? It is an ancient, powerful, and prevalent figuration: The metaphor and phenomenon of gifting has the power to move us. The “given” is not, as yet, as poetic or powerful as “the gift,” and what we require today—with an urgency provoked by the ecological crisis—are rhetorically powerful discourses (including, for example, Mathews’s panpsychism, Wallace’s pneumatology, Keller’s cosmology, etc.) to change or modify the way we think and act. Now, without doubting the Geniestreich of Marion’s phenomenology, our evaluation still stands: His philosophical approach, not only burdened by its recourse to indebtedness but further entangled by its excessive bias against metaphysics (a bias elaborated below), does not appear to dissolve or offer a way out of the gift-aporia. If this is the case, what are we to do? Perhaps Marion’s own entanglement inadvertently infers a way through it—acknowledging that a way through may be contrasted with a way out. It seems that Marion’s emphasis on debt, on the one hand, and his bias against exchange coupled with a desire for “purity,” on the other, signals a possible direction. Which way?

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arion’s recollection of debt signals his phenomenology’s entanglement in the gift-aporia, but a further examination of the way he treats other figures of the circle—including exchange, presence, and being—draws us closer to a way of negotiating the paradox. We are also drawn closer to finding a way of negotiating the tension between metaphysics and its other. Provoked by Derrida’s aporetic approach to the gift, Marion desires to disentangle it from circular economy.1 This disentanglement is figured in questionably extreme terms; Marion pronounces: “The gift can never again be envisaged within the system of exchange . . .”2 The antimetaphysician is intent on “detaching the gift from economy and manifesting it according to givenness purified of all cause.”3 He writes about commerce as a “first failing” of the gift.4 It is little wonder, then, that he seeks the gift’s “abstraction from commerce.”5 As exchange economy is tied to present being, Marion dismisses being and presence: “The gift is given strictly to the degree that it renounces Being, that it makes an exception to presence . . .” and “the gift, if it is ever to be thought as such, must occur outside of presence . . .” 6 This vocabulary of assertion (“renounces,” “must”) is tempered by the following statement: “The present [gift] does not owe everything to presence,” and I would definitely agree with this statement, for the gift is marked by presence and absence. However, Marion is tempted to return to a logic of totality by proposing that the gift “could quite possibly owe it [presence] nothing at all.”7 The gift “owes” presence insofar as the latter makes the gift known—while at the same time annulling it. That is the gift’s aporeticity. Without the presence (identification, return) of the gift, it would not be one. Therefore, the gift “owes” neither nothing nor everything to presence, but certainly something. The gift is indebted to presence—and simultaneously transgresses it. Both-and. Now, the question of Marion’s assertive bias against exchange, being, and presence is a pertinent one, and I will return to it shortly, but this much may be stated here: Marion’s desire to exceed metaphysics—and the gift-exchange that belongs to it—is a noble ambition. After all, there has been a traditional bias in 89


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philosophy and theology toward presence, identification, exchange at the expense of absence, difference, excess. When dealing with phenomena, any bias towards presence and identification can amount to conceptual idolatry. But the immediate concern, nevertheless, is this: In his discourse on the gift, has Marion privileged or overemphasized that which has been traditionally marginalized (excess, absence) at the expense of the metaphysical aspect of the gift? Without doubt, Marion’s criticisms are not commonplace in the sizeable Being Given; indeed, he also claims that “gratuity does not exclude exchange or reciprocity” and that exchange can be “honorable.”8 (And even the “monstrous commercial city” holds for Marion a “morbid fascination.”)9 As my analysis of Marion’s phenomenology indicates, one of the consummate expressions of commerce—indebtedness—reappears in his philosophy. The recipient-self is now overwhelmingly figured according to a radical liability: “The gift begins and, in fact, is achieved as soon as the giver imagines that he [sic] owes something—a gift without thing—to someone, therefore when he recognizes himself not only in the situation of a givee but also first as a debtor.”10 And the self is now asked to return the gift: “The gifted [the self rethought in terms of givenness] does not have language or logos as its property, but it finds itself endowed with them—as gifts that are shown only if it [“the gifted”] regives them to their unknown origin.”11 The gift and givee are here inscribed in a vocabulary of return—of returning the gift to its “unknown origin.” Elsewhere, Marion refers to “the event of unknown cause.”12 For a purportedly non- or anti- or postmetaphysical thinker like Marion, this refiguration of givee and gift is described in seemingly (and surprisingly) metaphysical terms (“origin,” “cause”), and he encourages the recipient’s regifting of the gift back to its unknown origin or cause. Even if gift-exchange is radically modified by emphasizing the anonymity of the giver, gifting nevertheless remains figured according to a logic of circularity. I, the recipient of the gift, am indebted: Does this not draw gifting into a commercial exchange that is, at other points in Being Given, denounced as the gift’s “first failing”? I return the gift, even if I do not know who/what gives. By Marion’s own reckoning, the gift evokes restitution. Rather than dissolving the gift’s aporeticity, Marion’s phenomenology thereby restores its radical heterogeneity. Concomitant with Marion’s criticism of exchange, presence, and being is his pursuit of a “pure givenness” and a “pure given.”13 For Marion, gifting involves “pure loss.”14 He calls for a receptivity that is “purely” unilateral: “The receiver can no longer claim to possess or produce phenomena. It [the recipient or givee] no longer stands in a relation of possession to the phenomenon, but in a purely receiving relation . . .”15 Does the recipient stand in a “purely re-



ceiving relation”? Is there absolutely no possession of the phenomenon? The nature of “possession” requires reexamination in the context of the gift-aporia: If the receiver can no longer claim to “possess” phenomena—even partially—how can these phenomena be partially recognized or known? Interestingly, Marion’s own writing testifies to partial possession; he himself acknowledges that phenomena—including gifts—may be partially known. The following quotations exhibit his recognition of the possibility that a pragma may be partially grasped: “The recognition of the gift as gift” is something “which the givee can accomplish by knowing the gift (at least partially) . . .”16 This partial recognition of the gift is crucial: Without it, the gift would not be (at least partially) perceived and received. Of course, the recipient does not fully possess phenomena. This is intimated by the word “first” in the following passage: “To see what gives itself, we must first renounce constituting and ‘grasping’ it (in the Cartesian sense), in favor of simply receiving it.”17 We first receive the phenomenon-gift, but we also grasp it. Thus, there are two movements: reception and seizure—which is partial (limited). Both-and. What may be gleaned from our review of Marion’s thoughts on exchange, “purity,” and knowledge? While his desire for “purity” is somewhat understandable, his disdain for exchange is certainly questionable and even alarming—even though there are moments in his thinking that, thankfully, recognize the place of return. Indeed, even his recognition and resituation of indebtedness in terms of the gift—while problematic when the gift is considered strictly in terms of its gratuity—is certainly understandable and even welcome when the gift is considered according to its aporeticity. Now, despite the fact that Marion reintroduces owing into the question of the gift, he nevertheless is very critical of exchange, and this double-movement (in favor of indebtedness, severe toward circularity) indicates one way in which Marion’s thinking is entangled by the gift’s doubleness. Marion’s fluctuation between the need for unknowing and partial knowing is perhaps a better indicator of an awareness of the gift’s duality and the way in which our thinking may respond to it: The gift evokes both knowing and unknowing. Whether—or to what extent—Marion realizes it or not, his thoughts on un/knowing reveal the gift’s paradoxicality and the concomitant requirement on our behalf to acknowledge the place of knowledge and its other. And so, despite Marion’s desire to resolve the gift-aporia, it nevertheless returns. How, then, can the gift’s duality be respected and reflected in our thinking? How can we remain faithful to the gift’s doublesidedness? Marion’s fluctuation indicates a way forward: Our reception of, and interaction with, the gift may be informed by a logic and language of oscillation.


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Oscillation? Even when phenomenologically rethinking gifting, we are apparently (and perhaps inevitably) paralyzed by the gift-aporia. Attempts to “break free” from it appear to draw us deeper into it. But this paralysis is no pure and simple immobility: Movement still occurs—indeed, it is a very dynamic motion, moving in the diverging directions of exchange and excess. So how could we describe this paradoxically moving paralysis? “Oscillation” (and synonyms like “alternation,” “vacillation,” etc.) appears eminently suitable, marked as it is by a rotating action that is nevertheless steadfast; according to the OED, to oscillate is: “To swing backwards and forwards, like a pendulum; to vibrate; to move to and fro between two points. To fluctuate between two opinions, principles, purposes, etc., each of which is held in succession; to vary between two limits which are reached alternately.” Unceasing alternation saves the gift’s irresolvable tension, reflecting and preserving its giftness, rather than becoming fixed by one of its elements (fixation thereby limiting it to grace or commerce). Oscillation’s “both-and” thereby guards against exclusion and reification. It does not bias: It is a double movement that does not favor one of the elements at the exclusion of the other, for any exclusion dissolves the gift itself. Rather than taking sides, oscillation takes both sides. Note, too, the phrase “held in succession.” This movement is marked by a recognition that gifting and its negotiation occur over time. Temporality is thereby respected; like gifting, oscillation takes time. Now, one may propose that “oscillation” resembles “dialectic” insofar as the latter is broadly cast in terms of the negotiation of antinomies. If there is a resemblance, why not employ the more common term (“dialectic”) to describe the way in which we are broaching the question of the gift? First of all, it is precisely the polyvalence and prevalence of the word “dialectic(al)” that dissuades me from employing it in the present work: One would be hard-pressed to find too many other words in the history of Western thought that carry more baggage, lumbered with a variety of meanings and nuances. Associated with Socratic philosophy, it has continued to be employed and reworked by thinkers over the centuries, including Kant, Hegel, and Marx. I would therefore have to attempt to identify and differentiate “dialectic” from the way it has traditionally functioned. If “oscillation” suits, why choose the more problematic “dialectic”? A second reason why I avoid the term “dialectic(al)” is that using this term would risk connoting a synthesizing movement wherein the oppositions (gratuity and gratitude) are resolved or sublated in a third or “higher” position (a synthesis that appears to be more Fichtean and Schellingean than Hegelian). I return to the question of the necessity of distancing oscillation from synthesis in a moment and focus on the question of the possibility of a “third way”: As I



have emphasized from the very beginning, I approach the question of the gift from a perspective governed by the way we think and practice gifting in our everydayness—according to the “natural attitude,” one could say. And it is precisely according to the common, consensual understanding of the gift (that which is given gratuitously and identified as such) that its two definitive elements are those that determine its meaning, heterogeneity, perplexity. If one were to fold or fuse its fundamental characteristics, “gift” would then signify something other than it presently does. To use the phrase that we have been utilizing (but must now modify), the gift would no longer be the gift “as we (un)know it.” Hence, the gift-aporia requires thinking it in terms of its duality. To be sure, this distinction should be distinguished from any severe dualism in which one aspect dominates and denigrates the other. But does this distinction, which preserves the gift’s heterogeneity, mean that we should “purely and simply” oppose or exclude any idea of the gift’s unity? Certainly not. While the gift is divided by the heterogeneity internal to it, it is nevertheless a unity; it is a divided unity, a united division. The gift is paradoxical or contradictory precisely because of the interplay between the excess and exchange that unite and divide it. If the gift were exclusively gratuitous, excluding any kind of identification or reciprocity (if it were, for instance, something like “indescribable grace”), then there would be nothing aporetic about it—baffling (or impossible) for thought and perception, perhaps, but not aporetic. Alternatively, if the gift were exclusively circular, then it would no longer be a “gift” but a commodity. But the gift is neither indescribable grace nor calculable trade. The “gift,” as it occurs on the plane of lived experience, is a unity (or division) that is nevertheless divided (or united) in its heterogeneity. Both-and. Accordingly, in order to maintain and promote the giftness of the gift, what is required is an avoidance of any excessive dualizing or synthesizing. The following comment by Webb, in which he offers instructions on the way in which theology should approach the exchange-excess binary, is certainly applicable for any kind of theorization of the gift: “Theology must deconstruct the tendency (inherent in extreme polarizations) of collapsing one term in this binary pair into the other—without synthesizing the two terms into some organic whole, compartmentalizing them in an attempt to preserve the purity of each, or replacing them with a middle or mediating term.”18 This passage elicits several comments. First of all, by insisting on oscillation, the present aporetics preserves the gift’s two basic marks rather than allowing one to swallow the other. Oscillation is a mover and shaker—not a destroyer. It is otherwise than a subsuming synthesis, for it maintains and preserves the gift’s two “polarities.” One may therefore charge that I am “compartmentalizing,” but this term seems too severe: I am distinguishing the gift’s two basic aspects during my


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analysis—and ana-lysis demands a certain degree of loosening up. When one defines and discusses, one distinguishes—by definition. Moreover, any “compartmentalizing” occurs according to a vacillational logic that never forgets each aspect’s other, thereby preserving the gift’s difference, unity, aporeticity, name. Analysis occurs for the sake of a totality or unity that respects its own heterogeneity. But does oscillation replace the two aspects of gifting “with a middle or mediating term”? Oscillation does not replace the terms, for it is a movement between the two terms; by definition, one can only oscillate between two positions. Perhaps one could ascribe to oscillation the role of a kind of mediation: The “mediator” safeguards the integrity of the two terms, thereby safeguarding the gift’s duality. This “mediator” (if it is one) advises us and reminds us that we should not abandon either aspect of the gift. Thus, oscillation does not collapse or organically synthesize. If it “compartmentalizes,” it does so for the sake of rigor and clarity. If it mediates, it does so without collapsing or synthesizing. In light of Webb’s excellent advice, one wonders how he himself construes oscillation, for he explicitly employs this term. His construal certainly warrants attention, for it reveals much about treating the question of the gift. Note the two following remarks on this subject: “I argue that the oscillation between gratuity and return produces theories of giving [including, presumably, Derrida’s] that make gift giving an increasingly difficult activity to understand, let alone practice” and “In the first chapter, I [Webb] argued that the act of giving— oscillating between the extremes of excess and exchange—was a difficult accomplishment . . .”19 These passages indicate two things. An awareness of the gift’s doubleness—which, I would propose, is certainly not lost on a good number of people—certainly makes its practice more difficult. Such an awareness even generates a certain wariness. For example, the somewhat anticipated or obligatory practice of bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party is a gift, but a gift that is exchanged for a meal. And so, the practice of gifting can generate a degree of suspicion or cynicism. The second thing to note about these two statements is Webb’s criticism of oscillation, a criticism that is confirmed in a third statement that argues that theorizations’ oscillation between excess and exchange is the result of a lack in modern discourses about gifting: “The task of doing justice to both excess and reciprocity demands a framework that modern theories do not provide. As a result, the modern discourse on gift giving oscillates between extravagance and exchange.”20 Webb offers a trinitarian framework. The question as to whether this framework proves ultimately incisive was critiqued in chapter 1; whether a trinitarian framework is valid or otherwise, what cannot be denied is that the gift provides its own “framework”: the play between gratuity and gratitude.



Within this “frame” or frame-beyond-frame, one should thereby expect that modern discourses on gifting, immersed as they are, consciously or unconsciously, in the gift’s duality, have biased either one of the gift’s two basic elements rather than oscillating—or not oscillating enough—between the two. It is precisely the gift’s framework that necessitates a certain (rigorous) oscillation. Hence, it seems that Webb’s relatively negative attitude toward oscillation is nevertheless revealing and insightful in terms of oscillation’s suitability as an approach when it comes to the question of the gift. But how does the thought of the other thinkers prefigured here resonate with this logic? In contradistinction to Webb—and, admittedly, according to a different problematic—a thinker like Keller seems very comfortable with oscillation. In Keller’s Face of the Deep, the word “oscillation” arises more than twenty times in that extraordinary text, and usually in very positive terms. But do works by the likes of Caputo and Derrida share a certain compatibility or resonance with the logic of oscillation?

Caputo’s Intimations Does Caputo oscillate? I would contend that Caputocean texts display a sensitivity toward both gift-aspects, but there are moments when certain sentiments tend toward excess—which is a risk we lovers of grace face. I briefly examine here thoughts offered in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida and “Apostles of the Impossible.” To begin with, it should be emphasized that, in the former work, Caputo marks a discussion of the question of the gift and indebtedness with an explicit avowal “to maintain the greatest possible tension between fidelity and infidelity (Points, 150–51), between the circle and the gift, to be paralyzed by this aporia and then to make a move (when it is impossible).”21 Hence, the vigilant Caputo does not succumb to any simplistic onesidedness: While he pleads for graciousness and forgiveness over calculation and indebtedness, he is not prepared to do away with the circle, duty, and debt altogether. However, while Caputo strives to maintain the greatest tension, sometimes this intention is obscured or diverted. For instance, the following passage (which was cited during my discussion of forgiveness) begins by excluding the circle (commerce, duty, reimbursement)—though he quickly moves according to a vocabulary of degree: “Forgiveness is the ultimate release from all economies . . . but not into a simple exteriority from the circle. Rather, forgiving loosens the circle of credit and debt. . . .”22 The tension is also relaxed according to the following remark, in which Caputo gets to the gist of The Gift of Death—hence, it is important to remember that the remark may be more a reflection of the content of that text rather than a clear-cut delineation of Caputo’s thinking: “The point of Donner


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la mort then is not to undo faith but to insist on the an-economic character of faith, that faith is always a matter of the gift and giving, not a transaction between a creditor and debtor.”23 What an oscillational logic proposes is that faith is not always about gifting and never about transacting; like the gift itself, the gift of faith is not strictly an-economic. Faith is not that “pure” (and perhaps/ probably nothing is); like the gift, we propose that it is marked or “contaminated” by gratuity and its other. As noted above, this is, perhaps, Christianity’s Geniestreiche. Faith is Matthean (calculating and forgiving) and Abrahamic (extravagant and squandering). Without a doubt, a passionate writer like Caputo is moved by the (im)possibility of the “pure” gift (and a “pure” faith)—who wouldn’t be? Who wouldn’t want to give unconditional gifts? Who wants to be burdened by the otherwisewell-meaning gifts of others? I have already mentioned that Caputo—and not only Caputo—desires a more forgiving and less calculating gifting. After all, he is spurred on by deconstruction, which, if there is such a thing, would be “‘[p]ure morality,’” not the hypocritical morality of the concrete and violent messianisms.24 Amid his passion for the impossible and the “pure,” and the forgivable and the peaceful, what saves Caputocean thinking from any pure and simple onesidedness is its own remarkable recognition that we cannot “escape” the circle (metaphysics, the subject, accountability)—though there is the ever-present danger that this passion could cloud one’s recognition of the very justifiable place of debt and reciprocity. While Caputo’s intention in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida is the maintenance of the tension between the gift and its rupture, his deconstructive love for the latter—warranted in light of the commercialism that marks gifts and faiths—risks blurring the legitimate place of the former. Despite the best intentions of this love for the gracious, we should not relinquish the tightest tension possible, and this means—even within the midst of the noble call for a more an-economic gifting—that we should not silence or exclude calculation, liability, and repayment. The notions of debt and duty should not be completely severed from the question of the gift (assuming such severance is even possible) if one wants to remain faithful to the gift and its duality. Now, does the essay “Apostles of the Impossible”—wherein Caputo expounds his concerns about Marion’s recourse to indebtedness—maintain this tension? Does this text oscillate between the circle and its rupture? First of all, that particular text risks being contaminated by the desire for “purity” that marks Marion’s thinking (and Derrida’s, as I explain below). Caputo takes up this vocabulary of infection in his Derridean critique of Marion’s bias toward indebtedness: “Derrida is worried about the contamination of credere, faith in the gift, by credit, which makes the gift a medium of exchange . . .” and “he [Marion]



has introduced an alien horizon, a substance foreign to the terms of donation . . .”25 Several comments are relevant here. Obviously, Caputo writes on behalf of Derrida, and so, once again, it is difficult to gauge from this text whether Caputo would align purity with excess and contamination with exchange. As noted earlier, Caputo frequently qualifies his statements with the phrase “from Derrida’s point of view. . . .” Furthermore, one recalls that, in previous works, Caputo openly declares his suspicion toward “the pure”: “I suspect purity generally,” he remarks in Against Ethics, and, in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, he warns that “nothing is safe, pure, clean, uncontaminated,” and that “nothing is ‘simply exterior’ to the circle of self-interest.”26 In light of these statements it is unlikely that he has succumbed to the desire for “purity”—at least in any extreme sense. Once again, it may be a matter of a slight bias (and desire for) uncalculating gratuity and ceaseless forgiveness—and one should forgive him for that. Despite the risk of invoking a vocabulary of contamination in “Apostles of the Impossible,” there is nevertheless an intimation of a kind of crucial oscillational logic at work in that essay. Caputo implies that exchange (and therefore presence, identification, knowledge, etc.) is not to be denied in any exaggerated sense. It occurs at the point where he links the gift with the “mystical rose”: “The gift must be like the rose, without why.”27At first, one would think that this coupling affirms the Marionic insistence on purifying the gift of exchange: The why-less rose challenges the metaphysical desire for origin or cause. However, the evocation of the rose should not be understood as a pure and simple protest against causal thinking. In an earlier note in the same essay (dealing with another aspect of the Villanova exchange), Caputo states (with apparent irony): “I think that Marion depends heavily upon the late Heidegger, despite his critique of Heidegger’s second idolatry in God without Being. Marion’s ‘gift’ looks a lot like the mystical rose that blossoms without why, free from the principle of sufficient reason and all causality, that Heidegger comments upon in The Principle of Reason . . .”28 Is it possible to read this note as indicative of a suspicion toward the notion of the rose that is completely without why (reason, causality, identification)? This much may be stated here: If the rose is a gift, and the gift may be partially grasped but is nevertheless elusive, then the rose wouldn’t be strictly without why. But why is a bias against reason and causality questionable? Why shouldn’t the rose and the gift be exclusively thought according to absence and unknowability? At the risk of sounding scandalously metaphysical, one must proffer the possibility that the rose and the gift aren’t absolutely without why. Who can say whether the gift and the rose are completely “why-less”? On the contrary, shouldn’t we make the following paradoxical suggestion: that the gift and


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the rose may be with-and-without why? To be sure, I think the powerful destabilization of metaphysical modes of thinking (such as the focus on causality and the privileging of the present) heralded by thinkers like Heidegger, Derrida, and Marion is good and noble and true, but perhaps their critiques deny presence and causality and reason their rightful place. Hence, what may be required is a critique of the critique of the metaphysics of presence—an ambitious project, and beyond the scope of the current work. But what we can glean from our meditation on the gift is that any comprehensive or absolute suspension of reason and all causality from a thinking of gifting is/would be an excessive move. The abandonment of metaphysics, the denial of knowledge, of identification, of exchange (if such rejections and denials are even possible), would be an extreme gesture, even if it is a noble gesture that means to save the “pure” gift. Perhaps, then, the gift and the rose may be best described as semi-mystical: knowable and unknowable, inscribed in exchange and beyond it, identifiable and elusive, real and hyperreal. Both-and. Caputo appears to sense the dangers of both an excessive antimetaphysical “mysticism/mystification of gifting” (my phrase) and a “metaphysics of absence” (Caputo’s phrase). However, in a text like “Apostles of the Impossible,” Caputo does not move beyond this hesitancy, which would demand that the gift be explicitly affirmed in all its madness: that the gift is somehow— contradictorily, paradoxically, miraculously—marked by both gratuity and gratitude, excess and exchange, elusiveness and identification. If a rose is a gift (and if all the roses in the world are gifts, and if all the world is a gift), then I propose that it is a gift because it blossoms with and without why.

Derrida’s Abandon Does Derrida acknowledge and reflect the gift’s two aspects or does he ever become biased? In short, has Derrida—a/the thinker who has scandalously exposed the gift’s aporeticity—remained faithful to this annoying and wonderful heterogeneity? An examination of the question of oscillation in relation to Derrida’s work may begin with the very text (Given Time) that provokes the necessity of a double movement. While Given Time calls attention to the gift’s gratuity, it does not deny or eliminate the question of circular economy. A series of statements reflects Derrida’s acknowledgment of exchange. The first affirms the relation between the two aspects of the gift: “Now the gift, if there is any, would no doubt be related to economy. . . . But is not the gift, if there is any, also that which interrupts economy?”29 The term “also” belongs to the lexicon of oscillation (which also includes phrases like “on the one hand . . . ,” “both . . . and . . . ,” etc.). The



gift is not only “related to [exchange and money] economy” but it also interrupts it. When thinking gifting, one should think it in terms of commerce as well as its other. The following statement is also instructive in this regard: “One should not necessarily flee or condemn circularity. . . . One must, in a certain way of course, inhabit the circle, turn around in it, live there a feast of thinking, and the gift, the gift of thinking, would be no stranger there.”30 One should not run away from exchange (assuming evasion is possible—and even noble); on the contrary, one should turn around in it “in a certain way.” Oscillation is just such a movement: It turns around almost in a circular manner but is constantly counter-moving. Swiveling is “no stranger” when it deals with commerce, and yet is also at home with its other. Surely vacillation is one “certain way” of moving and dwelling that nevertheless allows one to move and dwell in the gift’s two homes. It moves from one home to the other, never settling down. Like the gift, or the radical prodigal: It returns, and leaves again, and so on. I point to one more text to demonstrate that Given Time reflects the gift’s duality by oscillating between its contrary aspects. As I noted in my Introduction, Derrida explains that gifting would have to occur on a plane that exceeds human subjectivity, for subjectivity necessarily inscribes the gift in exchange. Does this mean that human agency should be suspended when thinking gifting? No: “There must be chance, encounter, the involuntary, even unconsciousness or disorder, and there must be intentional freedom, and these two conditions must—miraculously, graciously—agree with each other.”31 There must be the characteristics of excess (“chance,” “unconsciousness,” etc.) and the characteristics of constitution (“intentional freedom,” consciousness, etc.), and these two aspects “miraculously, graciously” acquiesce. Oscillation respects and reflects this miraculous and gracious acquiescence. But does the latter-day Derrida continue to maintain this kind of oscillating movement when confronted with the question of the gift-aporia? Does this oscillational thinking transpire during his discussion with Marion at Villanova? Several passages in “On the Gift” indicate a cessation of the tension. In a passage where Derrida summarizes Marion’s position on the gift, and having just mentioned Given Time, Derrida argues: As soon as a gift—not a Gegebenheit, but a gift—as soon as a gift is identified as a gift, with the meaning of a gift, then it is canceled as a gift. . . . So I dissociate the gift from the present. . . . The event called gift is totally heterogeneous to theoretical identification, to phenomenological identification. . . . The gift is totally foreign to the horizon of economy, ontology, constantive statements, and theoretical determination and judgment. But in doing so, I did not intend to simply give up the task of accounting for the gift, for what one calls gift, not only in econ-


Chapter 4 omy but even in Christian discourse. In The Gift of Death, I try to show the economy at work, the economic axiomatic at work, in some Christian texts.32

In his effort to save the gift from the totalizing grip of knowledge (which would undo it), Derrida participates in a kind of totalizing thinking himself. He employs a vocabulary of totalization: “The event called gift is totally heterogeneous to theoretical identification,” and “The gift is totally foreign to the horizon of economy, ontology, knowledge. . . .” These kinds of assertions are undoubtedly problematic. The gift cannot be totally foreign, totally heterogeneous. And when Derrida decides to “dissociate the gift from the present,” judging by the totalizing tone of the text, it seems this dissociation would be a clean cut. But oscillation teaches otherwise than exclusion: The present is elemental to the gift. Without presence, the gift would not be received as a gift. Hence, the gift and the present do associate (and not just semantically), even though this “association” is marked by an aporeticity that leaves us overwhelmed. In this state of perplexity, Derrida had previously (and rightly) named this association or agreement “miraculous” and “gracious.” However, the above-quoted passage demonstrates that, during the Villanova exchange, Derrida refuses to figure the gift in all its maddening doubleness by denying it its presence (exchange, circularity, constitutability). Now, Derrida’s bias against exchange may be refigured as a kind of yearning for the “pure” gift—the unconditional gift that remains unmarked by the “stain” of presence, identification, and exchange. This yearning is made manifest in the very text that Derrida cites in the above-mentioned passage—The Gift of Death. In that work, Derrida employs a lexicon of infection to critique the “contamination” of the gift by exchange: “The moment the gift, however generous it be, is infected with the slightest hint of calculation, the moment it takes account of knowledge or recognition, it falls within the ambit of an economy . . .”33 According to Derrida, the gift becomes infected—and fallen. This emotive kind of lexicon blurs Derrida’s original (i.e., initial and innovative) insight: that the gift is marked by the contradictory aspects of “purity” (gratuity, linearity, etc.) and “impurity” (exchange, circularity, etc.). An astute critic like Merold Westphal, for instance, cites the initial “Derridean claim that there is no pure gift, no gift completely eccentric to the economy of exchange.”34 But when one begins to consider these diverging aspects as “pure” (good) and “impure” (bad)—as Derrida seems to do in The Gift of Death—then one risks privileging the former aspect and simultaneously degrading the latter. One also finds support for the postulation of a certain Derridean bias against presence and its corollaries in the work of Marion Grau. In her essay “Erasing ‘Economy’,” Grau traces the way in which, over time, Derrida’s



thought on the gift has “taken on remarkably different shapes.”35 Armed with the thought of différance, she argues that “the early Derrida” does not choose between the circle and that which ruptures or interrupts it, but rather negotiates or holds together general and restricted economies. Arguing against or beyond someone like Arkady Plotnitsky, who identifies différance with the former, Grau incisively proposes that différance “might be better located somewhere between or beyond both of those economies . . .”36 Of course, while it is problematic to think différance in terms of “location”—thereby neglecting its dislocation or kho ¯rality—this kind of thinking rightly surpasses the confines of the eithor/or of the general/restricted, and maps out a certainly more rigorous (and thereby trickier and stranger) path toward a logic of between/beyond. Now, this path is somewhat different from—though certainly not incongruous with—the bothand of oscillation: It should be noted that Grau explores this alternative direction because she is ultimately concerned with thinking a divine economy that would precede, possibilize, temper, and exceed all others. Her task or scope is otherwise than mine: As I have noted from the beginning, I am bracketing— but certainly not denying or degrading—the question of an other Gift that creates or makes room for gifting as it occurs on the ontic level. To be sure, thinking in terms of between/beyond is unquestionably an honorable ambition. However, as I have been approaching the question of the gift according to lived experience, what is immediately crucial is the recognition and affirmation of the tension that appears in the gift as we ordinarily encounter it. To respect and reflect its heterogeneity—that is our immediate challenge, and oscillation provides a way of acknowledging and embracing it. And so, having cited decisive Derridean writings like “Différance” and other works that first appeared in the 1960s, Grau cautiously suggests that “in his nineties texts, however, Derrida might appear to shift positions. . . . ‘Economy’ in this context first of all refers to the distribution and partition of resources, and to the idea of exchange, circularity, and return, that with or without delay returns to its point of origin. It is this presumed circularity, this law of return that seems to preoccupy some of his further musings on the term, in texts such as Given Time, and The Gift of Death . . .”37 As I have demonstrated, I propose that Derrida still exhibits a “both-and” logic in the former text, but The Gift of Death is marked by clearer indications of the loosening or relinquishment of the gift’s necessary tension with its figuration in terms of “purity.” Of course, one sympathizes with Derrida, motivated as he may be by a (AbrahamicChristic-Nietzschean) resistance toward the logic of heavenly reimbursement and retribution axiomatic of Christendom and the other monotheisms (and also apparent in Eastern philosophy and spirituality; consider the notions of karma and nirvana, for example). We sympathize, but we also critique.


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Derrida’s most decidedly onesided moments manifest themselves most evidently and intensely in his 1997 debate with Marion. Referring to the text generated by that exchange (God, the Gift, and Postmodernism), Grau observes that the Villanovian Derrida (together with Marion) displays a dubious desire for “purity” and a concomitant opposition toward circularity: “Though Marion and Derrida differ about God, they both agree that God and the Gift must be located ‘outside the [exchange] economy.’”38 Recalling the likes of ecotheologians like McFague and John Cobb, Grau questions this exteriority: “Might we see in this attempt to escape a covert flight into transcendence?” Further on, she concludes: “Derrida’s attempts to isolate the gift from all polluting economy appear restrictive, if not almost oppressive, in what seems a drive for purity and transcendence.” From a “purely” aporetic-theoretical perspective, an “escape” is questionable if and only if we never want to return; there should be a two-way movement. And beyond the theoretical dubiousness associated with pure and simple “purity,” Grau locates ecopolitical problems with the Derridean desire to locate gifting outside of circularity. Together with Grau: We might wonder whether the gift, given without return and reciprocity, truly represents a desirable alternative to [exchange] economy. . . . Is an ‘untied’ gift in any way salvific for our relations? Exploitative economies have often depended upon the nonreciprocity of women or slaves to be the willingly or unwillingly ‘gifting’ contributors of what Bourdieu calls ‘symbolic capital,’ so that those in power could convert this symbolic capital that came to them as a ‘gift’ that could be converted into realized capital owned by those in power. Is not part of the problem in economies that they have not respected enough the need for a somewhat balanced reciprocity, that women, slaves, creation, environment have been excluded from a truly reciprocal and inclusive economy?

This powerful line of questioning provides a second crucial reason for the conservation of the gift’s heterogeneity: If we apply the concept and phenomenon of “gift” to corporeal things—that is, if we consider the matrix of material beings (whether other-than-human, human, or manufactured) as a gift—then the preservation of the element of identification (circularity, exchange) reflects and promotes our relationality (reciprocity, interdependency). It may be expressed thus: If excess signifies things like linearity and singularity, then exchange denotes or reminds us of our interrelatedness and interindebtedness. If thinkers devote too much time to transcendence and individuation, there is a danger that our radical interconnectedness is ignored, marginalized, devalued, or forgotten. A world of “pure,” absolute transcendence would be nonreciprocal, sheer grace and gratuity—unlike this matrix of interrelating, interindebt-



ing, intertwining bodies. Therefore, any escape from the interface between the immanent and transcendent is not only theoretically dubious but also ecopolitically disastrous. The drive for “purity” is a somewhat fanciful flight from “messy” materiality to “stainless” ethereality. (The qualifier “somewhat” signifies that we shouldn’t be absolutely against transcendence, but that we should acknowledge existence as the interplay between transcendence and immanence, presence and absence, etc.). Certainly, there is a perception that postmodern theory has paid insufficient attention to corporeal interconnectedness. In order to redress and restrict this drive toward the “pure” or “absolute,” thinking the two elements of the gift together ensures that the element of circularity opens up the reintegration of relation as crucial and undeniable—a reintegration that is all the more vital in an age of unparalleled ecological devastation. We should therefore think the gift’s relationality and reciprocity—and not just excess and gratuity—for creation’s sake. And so, any radical suspension of the gift’s aspect of identifiability appears to be an excessive move—both theoretically and ecopolitically. An absolute abandonment of metaphysics (if such a thing is possible) would be an extreme gesture, even if it is a noble gesture that means to save the gift’s aspect of freedom or gratuity—the aspect that differentiates the gift from a “pure and simple” commodity. (The quotation marks remind us that “even” mass-produced commodities are marked by excess, and therefore transgress, disturb, or frustrate the human ambition for total circumscription.) According to a logic of oscillation, the circular (knowledge, exchange, reciprocity, debt, etc.) would not suffer any severe bias. On the contrary, oscillation would instruct us that the marks of circularity are not “foreign” to the gift, nor do they “contaminate” it from outside. A second text takes Derrida’s excessiveness to the extreme. It occurs when Derrida outlines his version of Marion’s “deepest [religious] ambition” (discussed above). Derrida declares: “Finally, we have the word gift in our culture. We received it; it functions in the Western lexicon, Western culture, in religion, in economics, and so on. I try to struggle with the aporias which are located in this heritage. . . . But at some point I am ready to give up the word. Since this word is finally contradictory, I am ready to give up this word at some point.”39 Now, even though Derrida has admirably wrestled with the aporias located in the heritage of the gift in our culture, it seems the gift-aporia has (almost) won the tussle: Derrida is ready to give up the fight by giving up the word “gift.” The revealer (and reveler?) par excellence of the contradictoriness of this aporia is ready to give it up after years of struggling with it. Straightaway, several qualifiers are warranted before proceeding. First (and perhaps most obviously), one may account for this striking capitulation as an instance of Derridean dramatics. (Since I did not witness the exchange be-


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tween Derrida and Marion, I am unable to establish whether these words are uttered with irony or playfulness—I can only go by the letter of the text.) French philosophers (and not just French philosophers) are known, after all, for their melodramatic styles. (Westphal expresses it perfectly: “French intellectuals seem to feel a deep need to shock and scandalize.”)40 Perhaps Derrida’s stated desire to give up the word “gift” is a tactic to emphasize its paradoxicality: The gift is finally so aporetic he is ready to give it up. Second, it should also be noted that Derrida is at the brink of giving up the gift. He is “ready to give up the word at some point,” but one remains unsure (undecided) whether he has reached it. Has he reached that point? One may argue that Derrida has allowed himself a small opening, in case he decides he is ready to resume the struggle with the giftaporia. A small opening—in spite of the fact that he employs a vocabulary of finality, epitomized by the word “finally” (mentioned twice in that passage). Of course, what has become increasingly apparent in the course of the present meditation is that there is no finality to the gift-aporia; there is no finality to oscillation—it is a constant (and consequently dizzying, maddening) movement. Related to this endlessness is the possibility that Derrida’s questionable remarks are borne of the frustration of having to hold the tension in/of the gift. We humans—especially we post-Enlightenment humans who perhaps retain a desire to understand everything—are exasperated by our inability to fully comprehend, contain, or overcome aporias. This exasperation is understandable, but one should not give in to it. The heterogeneity of the gift must be saved, even at the cost of exasperation. Taking into consideration these qualifications, one nevertheless finds the above passage astounding. Why astounding? Derrida’s admission is astounding because the most outstanding thinker of the gift-aporia, and the thinker who implicitly employs something of an oscillating or oscillational logic to respectfully reflect the gift’s contradictoriness has finally given up on the gift—or is about to. But what should one do? Shouldn’t one continue to fight the good fight? Struggles are, after all, demanding: One grows weary of wrestling. Nevertheless, we should never give up (on) the gift. First and foremost, it should not be given up precisely because it is contradictory. Annoying as it may be, the word, concept, and phenomenon of gifting exemplifies the paradoxical. It is a powerful reminder of unconditionality and excess, as well as our inability to “escape” from conditionality and exchange. It is precisely because the gift is marked by two remarkably contradictory moments or movements that the word “gift” should be saved. This word and phenomenon will remind us, if we think (about) it rigorously enough, that there is an irresolvable tension between the one and the other. We think, work, play in this tension. We therefore need to oscillate, as unflinchingly as we can—for the gift’s sake.



Paralyzed, Oscillating At one point in “Apostles of the Impossible,” Caputo provides the following observation: “In ‘On the Gift,’ the focal issue between Marion and Derrida is once again the question of givenness and presence, and once again they share a mutual concern, to save the gift in the face of the aporia which they both agree is well formulated in Given Time.”41 Now, “to save the gift in the face of an aporia” is precisely a hinge upon which the current investigation turns. The phrase may be understood in two ways. The gift may be saved from the aporia: Marion “saves” the gift by taking it away from the horizon of exchange and relocating it in the horizon of givenness, though one still seems to be in debt or indebted. And, while Derrida attempts to think the gift as that which interrupts—or even gifts—circularity, the aporia nevertheless seems so overwhelming that he is “ready to give up the word [gift].” When Marion and Derrida face this aporia, they “save” the gift by removing it from either exchange or language. Alternatively, the gift may be saved by the aporia, even though, and at the same time, the gift disappears in the aporia. Despite the temptations (which are somewhat overwhelming for Marion and Derrida—and not just them), there is no need for a face-off between the gift and the aporia. Gift and aporia: together. The aporia (gratuity/reciprocity) is what makes the gift possible and otherwise, and, even though we crave the “pure” gift, we cannot deny its commerce: How could we identify the gift—save economically? We would be unable to fathom the unfathomable gift if we refused to face head-on both aspects of the aporia. The gift is both knowable and enigmatic; it is both perceivable and elusive—in a word, aporetic. Therefore, there is no need to (nearly) give up the word “gift” (Derrida), nor to (attempt to) remove it from exchange altogether (Marion); on the contrary, we should face it head-on in all its entangling aporeticity. If there is no way out of the gift-aporia, then an appropriate way through it is to oscillate within it. As the present inquiry reveals, the gift-aporia appears to be irresolvable, and so our thinking should resolutely oscillate between the gift’s two basic aspects. Now, a resolution in favor of oscillation fulfills the theoretical ambition of the present work: to think the gift as faithfully as possible, according to its duality. But can dwelling on the gift-aporia prove to be instructive ecologically?

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Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos


f what-is is a gift, and if the gift is an aporia whose reception involves oscillation, then we should oscillationally interact with the creation-gift-aporia. But how do we—and how should we—oscillationally receive creation? How may we think the gift-aporia and its oscillation as it concerns creation? Our meditation now moves in an overtly ecoethical direction: The remaining task involves a delineation of ways in which a vacillational thinking of gifting may enter the service of ecology, of right relations with the creation-gift, which entails the restriction of, and (one hopes) an end to, its degradation. But how is “the ethical” construed here? I sketch elements of an ethos: The Greek word ¯e thos originally denotes “an accustomed place . . . seats, haunts, abodes, first, of beasts, but afterwards of men [sic]”; only later does it denote “custom, usage, habit.”1 This word therefore has a scope that extends before and beyond “character,” “morality,” or “custom”: our inhabitation in creation. The ethos of a radically egalitarian aporetics of gifting therefore deviates from fundamentally anthropocentric and system-building ethics, such as utilitarianism and deontology.2 This broader, deeper term better reflects gifting’s prior-ity and transgression of any formulaic ethics. It also respects excess, which eludes or transgresses ethics.3 In words echoing Heidegger’s, and raising notions that recur in the present chapter, Bruce Foltz outlines some of the issues of ¯e thos: “It concerns the bearing through which we comport ourselves toward entities. . . . It concerns whether we conserve and look after entities—allowing them to be what they are . . . —or whether we seek revenge for their non-transparency to our gaze and their non-accessibility to our demands for total control. It concerns whether our bearing toward entities is the gentleness that gathers in the peace and stillness . . . or the evil and malice of the destructive and inflammatory . . .”4 The ethos sketched here therefore has to do with our comportment toward creation; it has to do with letting things be, with gentleness, with our desire for mastery, and with our destructiveness—themes that are addressed throughout this chapter. Furthermore, some additional nuances of ¯e thos are also implied and refig107


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ured. For instance, the notion of ¯e thos as custom is an important one: One of the hopes of this meditation is that the hermeneutic/perception of creationas-gift becomes customary or habitual, a habit that would contribute to a more ecological inhabitation. Concomitantly, this ethos contributes to the effort of erasing bad habits like excessive instrumentalization, manipulation, and destruction. As the question of right relations with what-is is an obviously expansive and complex one—and therefore formidable and even overwhelming—I can only present a sketch of certain aspects of a creation-gift ethos. Fortunately, there are two basic advantages with the provision of an outline. First, an overview of some of the most crucial aspects of an aporetic ethos ensures that I do not focus on one aspect and thereby risk neglecting another (which is precisely the imperative of oscillation). Furthermore, it will become evident that the form of the sketch itself reflects the ethos’ vacillational logic. My intention is to show how an oscillating ethos, marked by interconnected receptions and interactions, forms an ecologically and ecotheologically appropriate interface with the creation-gift. The positing and analysis of these receptions and reactions will be undertaken from philosophical, ecological, and ecotheological perspectives. The present chapter therefore offers a contribution to the formation and sustenance of a radically ecological sensibility or consciousness. My immediate concern is to contribute to the transformation of people’s perceptions of, and relations with, creation. Of course, what is also required is radical cultural transformation. However, like McFague in The Body of God, my present task is an attempt to “change sensibilities,” and the study “does not pretend to solve the intricate, complex dilemmas and issues that we face in every dimension of our personal, communal, and political lives.”5 What is unique about the present contribution is that this ethos is engendered by a relentlessly aporetic-oscillational thinking of gifting. Thus, I do not move “from” an aporetics “to” an ethos, but rather attempt to begin to explicitly extrapolate the ethos of this aporet(h)ics.

An Overwhelming Excess Throughout the present work, I have referred to the notion that the gift precedes and exceeds the subject, emphasized by the likes of Derrida and Marion but also recognized by Schmitz with specific reference to the creation-gift, and his words bear repeating: “Creation is to be understood as the reception of a good not due in any way, so that there cannot be even a subject of that reception; there is not something which receives, but rather sheer receiving.”6 Of course, with oscillation in mind, we interrupt this (perhaps enthusiastically enunciated) declaration by retrieving the intentional agent, for the subject must

Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos


also be involved in the scene of gifting in order for the gift to be identified as such. Nonetheless, Schmitz is correct in identifying the prior-ity of gifting. Of course, little may be stated about the preconscious self: Like the unconscious/ subconscious, it precedes and eludes the discursive subject. However, there are a number of ways in which we may be reminded of the creation-gift’s excess, which, in turn, evoke certain ecologically positive feelings and actions. In what ways are we pre- or semiconsciously reminded of creation’s priority? The gift overwhelms us in many ways and with a number of effects. Marion’s phenomenology offers a vivid portrayal of the given gift’s overcoming of the recipient, particularly since Marion intends “to describe how and how far, in the appearing, the initiative belongs in principle to the phenomenon, not the gaze.”7 The phenomenon’s “initiative” or freedom is appropriately cast in violent terms, signaling the extent of this excess: The given phenomenon “crashes,” “explodes” over consciousness, it “comes upon me,” it “bursts forth.”8 Free of human beings’ metaphysical calculations, the independent phenomenon surges up and ascends in a “free and autonomous coming forward . . .”9 Fascinatingly, Marion cites the computer as an example of the provocatively self-given phenomenon. He admits that it is “available” and “knowable,” and yet it nevertheless overwhelms and occupies the operator: The computer “tames my hand, exasperates my patience, and burdens my memory” and “makes a request of me, mobilizes me, makes me contribute—comes upon me.”10 Marion therefore reverses an Eckhartian thinking of the gift’s reception that stipulates that “God’s gifts . . . have to be measured according to him [sic] who is to receive them and not according to the one who gives them.”11 In light of these kinds of observations in which the creation matrix overwhelms the self and its subjectivity, it is vital that the gift’s excess be elaborated, for this overwhelmingness may be ecologically insightful. But how and why should the question of the gift’s reception— as opposed to the subject’s response—form part of a thoughtful and practical ethos? The question of reception is broached because this ethos surpasses an ethics that focuses exclusively on the actions of the self-possessed subject. We therefore begin with that which precedes human agency. In other words, we begin with that which is done to us. It is necessary to indicate ways in which freely given creation affects us—ways that are ecologically instructive and inspirational. To begin with, we recognize that the reception of the creation-gift precedes and exceeds discourse. That is why the complex question of silence is essential to an eco-aporetics of gifting. What has “silence” to do with the reception of creation? If/since the creation-gift prefigures discursive subjectivity, then, by definition, a prior or immemorial silence (for there are others—some negative) marks the reception of the overwhelming gift. And the subject’s silence respects and reflects this primordial silence, especially since discourse ex-


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emplifies the circle. But isn’t silence itself a response—albeit a subtle, less intrusive reaction? Whether the “I” responds with silence or gratitude, the gift is returned in some measure. To remain silent is itself a reaction that complicates the gift’s linearity. At bottom, response appears inevitable when the silence is the silence of the discursive agent. Nevertheless, silence is an exemplary response by the active subject for the following reasons. First, it is as close to “nonresponse” as exchange and subjectivity allow, it is a kind of “response-without-response.” Even though conscious, discursive silence is a reaction, it is nevertheless an exceptional attempt to reflect the overflowing gift. It reflects the excess that precedes and exceeds discussion. Silence excels in its resistance to any exaggerated kinds of circularity, such as profuse gratitude and crushing indebtedness. This kind of silence is crucial on ecocritical and ecoethical grounds. The following statement by Webb brilliantly identifies the necessity for silence: Think of the ways in which some religious traditions, like Quakers or Trappists, use silence in excessive ways in order to interrupt the demands for explanation and reciprocation. To enter into silence is to leave behind the give and take of conversation and to join a communal space where what is given is received without the need for counting and balancing. Put simply, silence suggests that all questions do not need to be answered. . . . To pause in silence before the gift is not to ignore it but to give it the only response that can be given in kind.12

Apart from the fact that Webb ends this inspiring passage by framing silence in terms of limitation (silence as the “only” response) and exchange economy (silence as a response “in kind” or equivalence)—a framing that somewhat undoes his argument—it is nevertheless constituted by several insightful remarks. First, silence disrupts the knowing subject’s all-consuming desire “for explanation and reciprocation,” “for counting and balancing,” for answering every question. One could propose that, in a certain way, this silence is the profound other of knowing: To remain silent (to state nothing) is to acknowledge excess and unknowing. The call to silence is not new. Webb’s reference to some Western religious traditions practicing hesychia (Quakers and Trappists) indicates a long religious and philosophico-theological history of this “wise silence” (Dionysius’ phrase).13 Very early on in Christianity, this practice developed in a variety of religious movements and orders, and persists today in institutional and more informal forms—but the “object” of this silence has usually been God.14 My contention is that the excess that marks the creation-gift requires the same kind of silence. We require an ecological hesychia. There is a strong link between silence and ecology, a link exemplified by the likes of Trappist writer and activist Thomas

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Merton: He taught and practiced hesychia, and was also a deeply ecological thinker.15 Furthermore (as I note below), there is an obvious link between silence and letting-be: By definition, one lets things be (gifts) by being silent-still. Silence makes room for creation’s creativity and therefore allows pragmata to be gifts. This kind of silence does not destroy. By reminding ourselves of the creation-gift’s excess, the subject may practice a silence that protects and promotes what-is. The need for hesychia is crucial (and obvious): Creation is inundated by the damaging “noise” of excessive episte¯me¯ and techne¯. Silence is a very proper “language” of gifting (which also makes room for its other—hence, the indefinite article “a” in “a proper language”), which brings us back to oscillation. Webb is once again illuminating in this regard, rightly oscillating between silence and discourse: “To account for the gift, to theorize its destination, is to reject the gift altogether, yet the gift demands some sort of response,” which means that “Language is the gift that makes the discourse on giving both possible and impossible.”16 We should therefore oscillate between silence and discourse. Both-and.

Tremblings Silence is not the only consequence of and response to the creation-gift’s precedence. Our bodies also inform us of its excess when we tremble. Trembling is usually associated with negative states (such as fear and medical conditions such as “trembling palsy” or Parkinson’s disease) and marks several physiological states, such as paralysis and “the trembles.” However, it should be emphasized that this involuntary movement is not restricted to negative contexts: Trembling may also be triggered by more positive situations, often being associated with some of the most singularly enjoyable experiences—orgasm, for example. In sum, there may be both positive and negative tremblings. Now, in what ways does trembling mark the reception of the creation-gift? Some of these responses are less voluntary than others, but they all share the characteristic of a kind of passivity, as opposed to active returns by a self-composed subject. These states include the broad and interconnected categories of bewilderment, wonder, and humility. These kinds of experiences traverse the border between presubjectivity and intentional reaction and interaction: They precede but also begin to enter consciousness and discourse. They are, in other words, concepts and experiences that traverse but also exceed exchange. A first set of reactions to the creation-gift may be described as “bewilderment” and even “terror”—terms employed and discussed by Webb in The Gifting God. As with the question of silence, Webb’s text once again proves illumi-


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nating; as part of his criticism of excessive squandering, Webb announces: “Taken to an extreme, that which is sheerly given, that which is there for absolutely no apparent justification, would be not only extravagant [defined by Webb as “straying, roaming, erring,”] but also superfluous [“disorienting as well as renewing,”]. . . . The appropriate response to such spurious thereness is not gratitude but bewilderment and perhaps even terror. How does the gratuitous lead to gratitude and not simply to surprise and perplexity?”17 We begin our reflection of this passage by noting that it resounds with oscillation: Webb oscillates between perplexity (reflecting the gift’s excess) and gratitude (reflecting identification). He acknowledges that the gift orients and disorients; it leads to gratitude as well as surprise, an oscillation whose pivot is the phrase “and not simply.” Surprise and perplexity—and even terror—correspond to the gift’s linearity; gratitude corresponds to its circularity. Now, Webb seems wary of— perhaps even terrified by—the possibility of “the sheerly given” arising with “absolutely no apparent justification.” This thought and event may ordinarily strike terror in the minds of those who seek answers to every question and a cause for every phenomenon. Disorientation terrifies those who seek absolute direction, certainty, and control. The “rose-without-why” continues to bewilder and even terrify the quest for omniscience. But Webb’s possible apprehensiveness toward these responses is itself somewhat perplexing insofar as he himself accepts and promotes divine excess and human finitude—but then why should theologians be excluded from the desire for control and predictability? As excess exceeds familiarity, sameness, and identification, it inevitably prompts a certain terror. Like God, death, or desire, creation is itself a mysterium tremendum generating a kind of terror or awe. But why would reactions like bewilderment and even terror resound ecologically? To use Webb’s terms, the features of extravagance and superfluity (roaming, erring, disorienting) mark an alternative movement from the route of economics (domesticating, correcting, orienting). We should be perplexed and even a little “terrified”: Too much familiarization and domestication provides the impetus for subjugation and destruction (“familiarity breeds contempt”). Of course, there is an obvious risk in implicating trembling in the present context: A term like “terror” may be mistaken for fear, especially the fear of others (human and otherwise), a fear that is then usually (and tragically) overcome by overcoming (controlling, disfiguring, annihilating) others. But the “terror” referred to here differs from a fear that leads to the violation of creation-gifts on account of their excess (difference, otherness, mystery). Any risk of misinterpreting this ecological “terror” for a violence-inducing fear is minimized by remembering that this “terror” occurs in the context of oscillation. Oscillation between the nomadic and the domestic, between the terrific and the familiar, is required in order to reflect the

Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos


excess and reciprocity of the creation-gift. With respect to this aporia, one should, in Webb’s words, be open to “bewilderment and perhaps even terror” as well as abiding in the comfortable and the familiar. And so, the giftness—and therefore the excess—of creation can and should evoke a certain fear and trembling: An awareness of the giftness and otherness of others paralyzes—or should paralyze—the otherwise mastering subject. When one trembles due to what Joseph Sittler terms “the terrifying dynamism of the natural world,” one does not inflict harm on the creation-gift.18 As strange as it seems, this kind of “terror” participates in an ecological lettingbe. Nevertheless, oscillation should be maintained: The “fear” that reflects excess should be juxtaposed with an acquaintance that reflects exchange. The chance of any excessive terror arising from a fear aroused by unknowing is counteracted by an exchange that generates familiarity and familial interaction. In turn, this familiarization and interaction is juxtaposed with bewilderment: Oscillation should be incessant, so as to reflect both aspects of the gift. If what-is is a gift, and if the gift is an aporia, then creation’s duality is reflected in the recipient’s bewilderment and familiarity with the gift. Both-and. While bewilderment and “terror” are the most intense eco-affirmative conditions marking the reception of the creation-gift, more “moderate” and “reflective” responses include the broad and correlated states of surprise, wonder, and mystery—all of which are cited by the pivotal thinkers we have drawn upon in this study. Take “mystery,” for example. One must emphasize that the category of mystery is not limited to that which is “not yet known,” but that a certain unknowability is constitutive of the pragma-gift.19 Interestingly, “mystery” is etymologically related to hesychia, for the former term signals the latter: “Mystos” means keeping silent (mystes: mute). But should an acknowledgment and affirmation of the mystery of things exclude the possibility of (partially) knowing them?

Un/Knowing Mysterious Gifts We are now well placed to further investigate the question of the mysteryknowledge dynamic when it comes to gift-things. I have already traversed this issue by drawing on Marion’s Being Given, where he refers to partial knowledge. Marion also figures knowledge in terms of degree in the essay “In the Name” (which, incidentally, was also presented at the Villanova conference), and its expression in that text has particular relevance when it comes to thinking and interacting with gift-things. In that text, Marion argues for “adequate knowledge” of phenomena. To begin with, if his thinking on this matter is consistent,


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one would assume that “partial” and “adequate” are rather synonymous, though the latter term perhaps infers something stronger. Now, two statements confirm his pro-epistemic position: “Every thing in the world gains by being known— but God, who is not of the world, gains by not being known conceptually. The idolatry of the concept is the same as that of the gaze: imagining oneself to have attained God and to be capable of maintaining him [sic] under our gaze, like a thing of the world.” The second passage reads: “Comprehension suggests adequate knowledge as long as one is dealing with things of the world.”20 Bracketing momentarily (and then addressing only one aspect of) the theological dimension to these statements, the idea that “every thing in the world gains by being known” raises some immediately pertinent questions. First, what do things gain by being known? From the perspective of this aporetics, the world’s ability to be known is a good thing: Knowing (grasping/constituting) things is essential to the gift-aporia. Without knowing the gift, we would not recognize it. But what is meant by “adequate knowledge”? Even though Marion does not discuss this qualifying term, it intimates a kind of knowledge-bydegree. In other words, we may have knowledge of phenomena, but this knowledge is not complete, for the phenomenon is ultimately elusive. This is good news for the gift: If the phenomenon could be grasped completely, then it would not be a gift, for absolute mastery would erase its excess. Absolute comprehension would reduce the gift to a strictly commercial entity. Therefore, the giftaporia requires a receptivity marked by knowing and not-knowing: Only this dual capacity and movement would satisfactorily mirror the gift-thing’s giftness. The statement “every thing gains by being known” elicits a further question: Is it always or only the case that what-is “gains by being known”? Surely the negative effects of science and technology (acts-of-knowing par excellence— though domineering religiosity and theology must also be included here), effects that include ecological destruction and deterioration, are based on the human desire and ability to know everything. Modern science and technology may be described as acts-of-knowing par excellence because their ventures are radically effective—that is, have an enormous effect on the world (to the point of disfiguring it)—because they substantially circumscribe things. Modern technology would not be the kind of problem that it is if it were not so effective. In effect, the world does not always “gain” by becoming more known by humans. On the contrary (and at the same time), the human desire and ability to know things presents the risk and realization of manipulation, exploitation, and the annihilation of humans and other-than-humans. Thus, to know others opens the possibilities of gain and loss—and the ecological crisis is a stark sign of the manifestation of the latter. According to the logic and vocabulary of gifting, knowledge is a “gift” in its two basic and opposing meanings: “present” and “poison.”

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Doubtlessly, the present investigation is not simplistically antiscience and antitechnology: What is asserted is that science and technology carry within them both positive and negative possibilities. Unfortunately—tragically—the negative possibilities manifest themselves in ecologically disastrous ways. The gift of the world will only gain when human beings acknowledge that circumscription is not—and should not be—absolute. Corporeal entities-inrelation have aspects to them that elude us, such as their infinitude and being (which are brilliantly elaborated by insights like Pascal’s disclosure of the inner infinity of things, Heidegger’s recollection of the ontological difference, etc.). One could also point out that relation and context further confound the unrealistic notion that a thing may be completely knowable. And so, things are marked by knowability and unknowability. Herein lies that which is most pertinent for the current investigation: If we can admit that both knowability and unknowability may be related to phenomena, then it is plausible to propose that the gifts-of-creation are gifts because they are marked by both circumscribable and noncircumscribable elements, respectively contributing to the gift’s recognizability and unrecognizability. The gift is divided or doubled—known and unknown. Hence, Marion’s statement requires modification in the following way: “Every thing[-gift] in the world gains by being known,” and yet “every thing[-gift] in the world gains” by remaining unknown. To perceive a gift is to both know it and not know it. “Comprehension” of the matrix of beings may be “adequate” but cannot be comprehensive—and this is a good thing: It keeps the gift safe. Despite the exaggerated claims of scientism and fundamentalism—for they are both discourses and practices that pretend to Know—the thing itself slips away. The above-quoted statements in “On the Name” therefore indicate a failure on Marion’s behalf to register the fact that mystery marks not only divinity but also “every thing in the world.” Despite the astounding respect for the phenomenon registered by Marion in Being Given, the theological work “In the Name” does not sufficiently register the excess that marks even the most “mundane” humanly made things. Caputo questions this bifurcation between knowledge of the divine and the corporeal: “With everything other than God, Marion contends, we always mean or intend more than is actually given to us. . . . But with God, more is given to us than we can ever mean or say, so that words and concepts are always at a loss to express what has been given. With the name of God, the shortcoming has to do with the failure of the concept, intention, or signification, which is always limited and imperfect, not with givenness, which is excessive and overflowing.”21 Now, I contend that, if (or since) it is a gift, creation is likewise “excessive and overflowing.” Like the gift of God (if there is/are any), the gift of creation


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overwhelms the knowing subject. When a thing is a mystery (and acknowledged as such), any attempt to totalize it is resisted. Instead, we allow wonder to overcome us. A text written by John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) is one of the rare instances in pre-twentieth-century theology where an explicit connection is made between the creation-gift and a sense of wonder: “When a man [sic] thus considers the wonderful wealth and loftiness of the Divine Nature, and all the multiplicity of gifts which He gives and offers to His creatures, then there grows up within him a wonder at such manifold richness, at such loftiness, and at the immeasurable faithfulness of God to His creatures.”22 The act of contemplating the fecundity of the creation-web produces a sense of wonder, though we remember that a sense of astonishment or mystery does not belong exclusively to the domain of the sacred.23 Modern ecotheological reflections emphasize reactions and attitudes like trembling and wonder. Recalling Augustine, Keller notes that “each finite body . . . surrounded and permeated by [divine] infinity” is “shaken and confused . . .”24 Excess figured in terms of infinity overwhelms finite creation. McFague notes that a striking feature about process theology is its emphasis on reactions like awe and wonder toward creation.25 Indeed, she stresses the centrality of a sense of mystery for an ecological sensibility: “A first step, then, towards a healthy ecological sensibility may well be a return, via a second naïveté, to the wonder we as children had for the world . . .”26 Thinking creation as a gift may encourage this second, ecological naïveté—a continual returning to this very wise naïveté. However, our astonishment is threatened and erased by other attitudes. Wallace incisively summarizes the commodification of what-is and its effect on a sense of wonder: “In our time nature has been commodified and domesticated into a piece of real estate; it has become one more consumer item to be bought and sold in order to maximize profits. Once a source of terror and awe, nature no longer functions as wild and sacred space for the eruption of the sublime. . . . We have exchanged the power and mystery of the earth for the invisible hand of the marketplace and we are all the poorer for it.”27 Poorer, indeed. But by perceiving creation as a gift, the fundamentally eco-affirmative states of terror, perplexity, and sublimity may be evoked. The more often the sense of mystery and these other states are evoked, the more we promote pro-ecological thinking and practices, and the more we resist anti-ecological states such as excessive circumscription, instrumentalism, technologism—and, yes, commodification. Another kind of response marked by a certain “trembling”—albeit less volatile—is the humility garnered by a recognition and embrace of the gift’s prior-ity and excess. Webb conveys its significance: “The ethics of reception is marked by humility.”28 The attentive subject realizes it derives from the cre-

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ation-gift and this realization counterbalances pretensions of priority and mastery over itself and others (human and otherwise). An awareness of our derivation counteracts the active agent’s desire for conceptual and technological imperialism. Schmitz recalls the thought of Gabriel Marcel, who expresses the relation between the gift, humility, and subjectivity succinctly: “We realize at once with what care the affirmation ‘I am’ must be approached . . . it [should] be whispered humbly, with . . . wonder. I say with humility because, after all, . . . this being is something that can only be granted to us as a gift; it is a crude illusion to believe that it is something which I can give to myself . . .”29 Now, in what ways does humility correspond to the above-mentioned receptions and responses to freely given creation? First, the self is gifted before the “I,” and this prior-ity humbles—but shouldn’t humiliate—the subject. Second, humility is characterized by silence: One can only begin to listen to others when one remains silent. Humility’s involvement with hesychia, in turn, generates a relation with relation: Humility is a precondition for discourse. Indeed, humility counters an anthropocentrism that refuses to acknowledge and embrace the giftness of other creation-gifts. Hence, humility essentially marks the reception of, and response to, the creation-gift. We recall here the maxim “The humble will inherit the Earth”: It takes on renewed meaning in an age of ecological crisis. In sum, various tremblings—expressed as a certain “terror,” silence, bewilderment, wonder, mystery, and humility—are certainly ecological, for when one trembles, remains silent, and wonders, one does not ruin the Earth. But there are also responses to the creation-gift that are (more) thoroughly determined by things like subjectivity, intentionality, and reciprocity, reflecting the gift’s aspect of exchange (identification, knowledge, return), but also “responding” to its linearity. Indeed, one may propose that, while passive reactions like preconscious silence and tremblings reflect the gift’s excess, the responses discussed below may more properly reflect its duality.

Letting-Be, and Violences During the above reflection on excess and some of the ways it overcomes us, the notion of letting-be already arises as a crucial non- or quasi-response (a passive reaction, or, a reaction-without-reaction). After all, when one is silent or trembling, one lets things be. Letting-be or allowing can therefore be implicated in some of the unintentional or otherwise-than-intentional responses by human gift-recipients. However, letting-be can also be a very conscious decision on the part of the subject, which may be motivated by (among other things) the iden-


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tification of (the possibility of) creation-things as gifts. Straightaway, we recognize that this kind of passivity or return-without-return actually (and surprisingly) turns out to be a profound—rather than insulting—form of “returning” the gift: Ordinarily, when a gift-recipient returns a gift, the giver may quite justifiably be offended—and understandably so. But when it comes to creationgifts, any “return” or leaving-alone is a positively good thing: If things gift themselves to us, then our letting-them-be (which also, lest we forget, includes our selves) is also a returning-them-to-themselves. In this instance, there is positively no ill will: On the contrary, this return-without-return is generated by a kind of respect for things that eco-nobly leaves them/us alone to be their/our selves. This translates as a radical noninterventionism that can only save and serve the Earth. Somewhat surprisingly for us lovers of gratuity, it turns out that the gift’s circularity, both in the sense of its identification and its return, inspires an ecologically admirable and effective praxis—the praxis-without-praxis of letting-be. We can delve deeper into the dynamics of allowing by tracing the German term Gelassenheit; according to Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart was the first to devise this term.30 Gelassenheit comes from the word lassen, “to let go, to relinquish or abandon,” as Fox explains, and he cites Caputo here: Gelassenheit “suggests openness and receptivity.”31 What is most remarkable about Fox’s account of Eckhartian Gelassenheit is that he associates it with three phenomena whose significance is also deemed crucial according to the present meditation: humility, hesychia, and play. Play is discussed below, and the significance of the first two has already been registered, but it is worth noting some features of Fox’s commentary. On humility, Fox cites Eckhart, who connects letting-be with “gentleness,” which connotes nonviolence, and “selflessness,” a resistance towards overbearing subjectivity: “What is being spoken of here is to meet with gentleness, in true humility and selflessness, everything which comes your way.”32 Fox’s Eckhart also recalls a silence within which our allowing receives creation; Fox emphasizes that this silence is not “an abstract or a distant silence, however, but one that accompanies all of our activities. This attitude of utter reverence and gentle receptivity we are to bring to all we do . . .”33 In a world where busyness and diversion are rife, the bringing-of-hesychia to all that we hectic subjects do is, of course, a challenging task—but its difficulty does not annul its urgency. Now, the reference to the phrase “gentle receptivity” joins the early reference to “gentleness” mentioned in the text on ethôs by Foltz cited at the beginning of this chapter. How does gentleness mark our ethos? As I will explain below, gentleness is related to letting-be in its contrast to violence. But how is violence figured in the context of our aporetics? I begin with a rudimentary de-

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scription of “violence” formulated according to the definition of “gifting” employed in the present work: Violence may be defined as that which disfigures and/or destroys things that may also be gifts. Disfigurement and destruction may be figured according to the way they affect the two aspects of gifting: its gratuity and its perception. Straightaway, it is crucial to distinguish a variety of violences. The first category, which includes what may be tentatively termed “necessary” violence, is to be distinguished from “unnecessary” disfigurement and destruction. To begin with, a first “necessary” violence is the “violence” of identification: As Derrida correctly ascertains, the identification of the gift inevitably leads to its undoing—this is the crux of the gift-aporia. Hence, one may maintain that identification (perception, knowledge, return, etc.) is itself “violent.” But this kind of violence un/does the gift in a paradoxical interplay: The gift requires identification as much as it requires its other (gratuity, excess, etc.). It is therefore “necessary.” The gift could not be perceived as such without the “violence” of perception and/or interpretation. Furthermore, the element of identification is not only “necessary” but also seems to be positively good. The ethical dimension to exchange may be expressed by introducing an important objection: If a gift is given gratuitously (in other words, if the gift comes without condition), then the recipient would be free to treat it in whatever manner the recipient desires. If there are no strings attached, the gift could be maliciously disfigured or destroyed. But this state of affairs would only be valid if and only if the gift were strictly unconditional—the “pure” gift. But such a gift neither stays true to the idea of the gift (unconditional and conditional), nor does it help us with the crucial task of remembering and promoting relation, reciprocity, interindebtedness. There is also a second “necessary,” or, perhaps more accurately, “unavoidable,” violence: As physical beings-in-relation, human beings, like other physical beings-in-relation, will constantly violate the autonomy of other individuals—and vice versa—due to our interconnected materiality. When I walk, for instance, I inadvertently annihilate and injure countless creatures; likewise, an erupting volcano, for example, will unleash its “violence” upon itself and upon its neighbors (including humans). Included in this category of necessary violence is predation in its various forms. McDaniel recognizes that “life inevitably involves the taking of other life. Every time we wash our faces we kill billions of bacteria; every time we eat, we support the death of plants, and often, animals.”34 This kind of violence, while often unfortunate, is certainly not unethical: It is an essential characteristic of the corporeal matrix-gift. A certain inevitable violence issues from interrelatedness. Reminding ourselves of our indubitable being-in-relation (a difficult thing to do in an age of hyperindividualism) also prevents us from eco-zealously


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proposing—or at least wishing—that letting-be should be our sole response to creation-gifts. Acknowledging the good intentions of an all-encompassing noninterventionism, our very relatedness determines the inevitability of interaction. What an oscillational ethos attempts to do is pay due attention to letting-be as one of the fundamental and fundamentally appropriate responses to gift-things. But this should not be the only desired response—oscillation forbids it. So, what kinds of violences should be criticized and resisted? First, I turn to “disfigurative” violence. Disfigurement occurs according to several interrelated phenomena like instrumentalism, commodification, consumption. I will briefly note some violent aspects to these phenomena in which we—especially we Westerners—are all implicated. Max Oelschlaeger acknowledges that all of us are immersed in, and promote this violence: “Chrysler and General Motors and you and I are caught up together in modern society, acting out our roles in a cultural script we did not write.”35 (Of course, it is up to us to work toward rewriting the script.) We humans intervene to manufacture things. Via our intervening manipulation, phusis is not allowed to come forth in its freedom. The gift is not allowed to arise autopoie¯tically and gift itself in its autonomy. Both Marion and Heidegger prove illuminating in terms of our intervention and reconstitution of creation. Heidegger understands phusis and techne¯ as two kinds of poie¯sis (hervorbringen), as in the blossoming of a rose or the casting of iron.36 But modern technology violently deviates from or perverts techne¯ in that the disclosure of entities is, in this case, forced (herausfordern): “Modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can be extracted and stored as such.”37 Heidegger names this disfiguration Bestand, or standing-reserve. He supplies the famous example of the power plant on the Rhine, which is set upon (stellen) to produce power for humans.38 Unlike the “old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years” (itself a work of techne¯), the river is reduced to a source and resource of power driving the plant, which, in turn, redirects this power as a commodity to be purchased and consumed. And so, modern technology is a form of techne¯ that not only prohibits things from letting themselves be in their own particularity, but disfigures phenomena as standing-reserve, as products for human consumption. Marion’s phenomenology of givenness also offers a critique of science and technology, particularly in terms of the way in which human conceptualization precedes the phenomenon—a kind of preemptive disfiguration. Marion describes how “objectification” (where human conceptualization determines the given, rather than vice-versa) is exemplified in “technological objects” or “products”: The intention and the concept hold sway over the

Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos


thing itself, by planning, scheming, or drawing the object prior to its givenness. Marion explains: “The concept (in the sense of the ‘concept’ of a product) renders this product visible before production actually gives it. . . . To show in and through a concept (signification, intention, etc.) precedes, determines, and sometimes annuls intuitive givenness.”39 This kind of conceptualization foreshadows givenness and the latter only completes the former. (This precedence is analogous to the metaphysical notion that existence merely completes essence.) Marion puts it incisively: The “alienated” technological product is induced rather than produced. Marion’s (unfortunately short) critique is powerful: Technological objectification opposes the free, spontaneous upsurge of the phenomenon. However, from the perspective of an aporetics of gifting, perhaps a vocabulary of degree should be evoked again: Does this objectification absolutely obliterate the giftness of the phenomenon, or is it possible that it is still retained to some degree? In other words, even though the concept of a thing precedes its phenomenalization, does this entail that the pragma bears no mark of unknowability or mystery? Does mass production prevent the possibility that its products and reproductions bear no trace of excess? I have wagered from the beginning that every thing bears such a mark, be it a raging river or a plastic bag. The cocreated product-thing nevertheless retains a remnant of freedom or excess—at least in terms of the elusive, mysterious phusis from which the product is manufactured. I therefore disagree with Foltz when he remarks that “A Styrofoam container, for example, is by no means a ‘thing.’”40 “By no means”? One would have to examine our respective definitions of “thing,” but I propose that a Styrofoam container is a thing, a gift—as well as a Gift (poison). The giftness of materiality does not exhaust its other aspects and possibilities—including the ugly possibilities of the human capacity to induce matter to act disfiguratively and destructively. The atomic bomb exemplifies this inducement, literally forcing morally neutral matter to unleash horrific devastation. I concur, nevertheless, that, together with Heidegger’s example of an airliner, the Styrofoam container is almost always rendered as standing-reserve: the one as a utensil, the other as a form of transportation.41 The possibility of their being figured as gifts—let alone “things”—remains submerged as we go on our disastrous way of perceiving phenomena primarily and even exclusively in their instrumentality and disposability. Submerged—but not erased. Now, while disfigurement drastically changes creation-gifts, it does not annihilate them: We commit the most extreme violence toward the coproduced thing-in-relation when we destroy it. The gift is no longer. This extreme violence does not reduce the gift to a utility, nor does it disfigure the way it arises,


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but obliterates it. This extreme violence robs the gift of its appearance, identification, and reception. Deprivation (of the gift’s presence and identification) and depravity (destruction) are indelibly interrelated. But how can we insist on both a Heideggerian ethos that limits ecoappropriate technologies to those that are relatively gently drawn forth from phusis (bridges, windmills, etc.) and, on the other hand, endorse a radical egalitarianism that figures all things as gifts—even bombs and Styrofoam products? Despite appearances, there is no incompatibility here: The figuration of all things as gifts does not thereby erase other aspects or elements of those same things; aspects like human intention, design, and implementation can also make the same gift-things eco-ethically reprehensible. Let us consider the examples cited above: Styrofoam and bombs. First, Styrofoam products are undoubtedly unecological: Their production process and impact pollutes the Earth. But since they are made from the Earth—induced, to be sure, but still brought forth from what-is—they may nevertheless be marked by giftness. A thing can be both a polluting product and a gift. Both-and. Does this mean that we should insist on the continuing production of Styrofoam products? Of course not. Following Heidegger, I concur that they belong to the category of those things that modern technology forcibly brings forth with devastating environmental consequences, and we should stop making such things. But what about those Styrofoam products that have come to be? They should, to borrow a wonderful phrase from Mathews, be allowed to “grow old.”42 Depending on their ability to be utilized and/or recycled in less- or non-destructive ways, existing products should be allowed to be (gifts) that eventually return to the Earth. And what about bombs? How can they be gifts? Existing weapons should be dismantled, their parts used for alternative products (if possible) or safely stored until they turn to dust. However, their production should not, for the time being, be completely stopped: Even the most passionate ecologist would have to acknowledge that there is a place for a small number of defensive weaponry. Hence, it is rational to assert that there is, unfortunately, still a need to produce some kinds of weapons—even though modern weaponry is the most terrifying exemplar of the induced, eco-devastating products of modern technology. Now, the question and phenomenon of violence (in all its forms) is complicated by the issue of human intent. Each violence registered here seems to have the following relation to intentionality: The “necessary” violence of identification is enacted by the knowing subject, while the violence intertwined with our interconnectedness can precede or exceed consciousness. But the question of self-consciousness is more complicated with regard to disfigurative and destructive violence. These violences may often be enacted unintentionally, especially acts like instrumentalism and inducement. Drawing on a refig-

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ured Augustinianism, Keller rightly points out, when referring to sin or “discreation” (“creaturely relations that deny and exploit their own interrelations”), that we often discreate preconsciously, usually as a consequence of preexisting repressive structures and relations (institutions, customs, mindsets, etc.).43 Violence, whether enacted individually or corporately, can occur below or beyond selfreflexivity. However, what matters for Keller—and for us—is how these preexisting conditions are negotiated now: “I become guilty if I do not take responsibility for the effects of past relations upon me now, as I affect the future.” “Responsibility” is here figured in terms of choice; according to Keller, the governing criterion lies in the ability to choose, which ties in with the notion of unnecessary violence: “Sin is a matter not just of bad choices but of the capacity to choose.” But responsibility and choice are intentional acts, which returns us (somewhat aporetically, and a little bit like the gift) to the question of intentionality. Intentionality is therefore determinative (though probably not exclusively so) in relation to the question of excessive violence or discreation: As soon as we recognize instances of our disfigurative and destructive violences, we become responsible for their relinquishment. I am now better placed to return to the question that generated the present discussion: contrasting the violence that warrants resistance (disturbing and destructive discreation) with gentle Gelassenheit. Letting-be is the other of disfigurative and destructive violence. Gelassenheit does not disfigure and destroy; it allows a gift-pragma to appear in all its aporeticity and freedom and perceptibility. Gelassenheit is the gentlest receptivity. But how does this gentle Gelassenheit differ from absentmindedness and indifference? First, if creation is a gift, then we humans, in our everydayness, tend to receive it absentmindedly: After all, who of us constantly interprets creation as a gift? As Webb most aptly puts it: “What is everywhere is easy to overlook.”44 Creation’s giftness is concealed in its givenness. Now, in one sense, the tendency toward absentmindedness is a good thing. To absentmindedly (which is close to unknowingly)—accept a gift preserves the possibility that the gift is neither identified nor returned. However, this situation returns us to the fundamental aporia: The gift must be recognized as such, even though this recognition dislodges the giftness of the gift-thing. But it seems the disposition of absentmindedness is precisely the way in which we usually accept the creation-gift as we go about disfiguring and destroying it. Absentmindedness therefore needs to be disrupted. The interpretation of creation as a gift stimulates this kind of ecologically minded interruption. And how does letting-be differ from indifference? Indifference is significantly more negative than absentmindedness because the world may be recognized as a gift, but the recipient is nonetheless unmoved by this kind of awareness. While Gelassenheit is a letting-be, indifference may lead to a letting-not-be.


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Apathy conspires with discreation by allowing violence to be carried out. Hence, contrary to the connotation that Gelassenheit may be politically passive, it is countercultural and even revolutionary in its opposition to instrumentalism, domination, and annihilation. Letting-be is the other of war—whether against humans or others. Of war, Kate Rigby reminds me that increasingly hightech warfare intensifies and widens the spheres of victimization. Furthermore, the rise of modern technology enables modern militarism to become, according to Ruether’s informed evaluation, “the ultimate polluter of the earth.”45 We can therefore counteract disfigurative and destructive violence by letting-be rather than indifferently standing by. Letting-be is also a fundamental axiom for environmental ethics, though it usually goes by other names: the “duty of noninterference,” the “principle of nonmeddling,” the “principle of minimum impact,” and so on.46 According to such a stance, Wallace explains that unnecessary building developments, for example, are to be opposed, while minimal use of some creatures in medical research is acceptable. Of course, this allowing would be radically extended by virtue of the egalitarianism espoused here: Gelassenheit applies to all things, including humanly constructed things. In the insightful article delightfully entitled “Letting the World Grow Old,” Mathews argues for a letting-be as it relates to urbanized environments, “allowing this world to go its own way” and therefore “letting the apartment blocks and warehouses and roads grow old.”47 However, as I discuss below, this letting-be would not stand alone: Mathews recognizes that our relation to these things is also marked by “use” and “adaptation” and that such interactions are “compatible with a fundamental attitude of letting be, of acquiescence in the given, and of working within its terms of reference, rather than insisting upon further cycles of demolition and ‘redevelopment.’” Her elaboration is beautiful, convincing: “Things which initially seemed discordant and out of place gradually fall into step with the rest of Creation. Old cars take their place beside old dogs and old trees; antiquity naturalises even the most jarring of trash.” A recognition of a certain compatibility between allowing and utility is crucial: It reflects and respects the gift’s duality and our oscillating interactivity. Considered scripturally, disfigurative and destructive discreation is a reversal of the biblical act of cocreation: Rather than letting things be (gifts), excessive violence destroys or deforms their coming-to-be(-gifts). The biblical “Let there be . . .” indicates an understanding that Elohim opens up a “space” or possibility for the self-disclosure of things. Divine creativity may be thought as an allowing that makes possible intercorporeal letting-be. Ecotheology also calls for Gelassenheit. Very early on in The Body of God, McFague explicitly raises and emphasizes the need for letting-be; she urges humans “not to act, but to abstain; not to control, but to ‘let be.’”48 A construal of excessive violence vis-à-vis

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Gelassenheit informs McFague’s ecofiguration of “sin”: Sin occurs when other creatures are not allowed their “needed space.”49 McFague also connects ecoabstinence or letting-be with humility: “A sensibility of abstinence and restraint suggests that we assume an attitude of humility . . .”50 Humility is here figured as a condition for Gelassenheit: A humble response toward the creation-gift ensures its status as gift. Hence, humility and letting-be interconnect to interact with the creation-gift in good and gentle ways.

Instrumentality—Including Stewardship During his discussion of Gelassenheit, Fox cites Reiner Schürmann’s depiction of letting-be: “It designates the attitude of a human who no longer regards objects and events according to their usefulness, but who accepts them in their autonomy.”51 Such a noble intention and ambition, particularly in an age of excessive instrumentalism and manufacturing, certainly substantially motivates the present aporetics, and the notion of acceptance-in-autonomy is obviously (and brilliantly) reflected in discourses like Marion’s phenomenology. But why is the qualifier “substantially” utilized here rather than a term like “absolutely”? Why, in other words, can’t we rest with letting-be? According to the gift’s aporeticity and the concomitant oscillational logic governing this work, allowing should not exclusively determine our interactions with the creation-gift: A vacillating ethos allows other responses like instrumentality and return. From a radically aporetic perspective, an openness toward a certain kind of instrumentality (as opposed to ecodestructive instrumentalism) should not be abandoned. The ability to “use” the gift reflects and embraces both the element of gratuity and identification in it. If the gift is identified in all its gratuity, then the recipient should utilize it. As surprising or even troubling as this claim may sound (and justifiably so—hence the scare quotes in the previous sentence), an instrumental use of the gift is thoroughly appropriate: Instrumentality is emblematic of the gift’s circularity. In other words, the gift-recipient not only responds to the gift in ways that reflect the gift’s excess (silences, tremblings, and “returns-without-return” like letting-be), but also in ways that reflect the gift’s aspect of exchange: Use is one such way. Hence, according to an aporetic thinking of gifting, there is certainly a place for industry and technology. The appropriateness of using the gift is confirmed in the phenomenon of human gifting: When one person gifts a gift to another, the nonuse of the gift would, in all probability, offend the gift-giver. If creation is gifted, its use by the recipient reflects and respects the element of recognition in the gift. Of course, the ecological crisis reveals what happens when our “use” of the creation-gift turns to abuse: According to the language and logic of the current meditation,


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this devastating transformation occurs when any oscillational reception of, and relation with, the gift is halted and the gift is exclusively figured as a mere product without excess. So, how can the subject resist this devastating transformation? According to the present study, one may already begin to glean what is required: An instrumental treatment of the web of what-is would need to be held in tension with wonder and Gelassenheit (and other reactions and interactions) that honor the gift’s excess (prior-ity, mystery). What this means in practical terms may be illustrated in terms of the logging industry: Logging would be significantly restricted, allowing room for alternative responses to the gift of trees, by letting them be, and by letting them be inhabited and enjoyed by other-than-human and human beings. Tempered by Gelassenheit, our instrumentality would also make room when dealing with mass-produced goods: Our utility would be informed by ecologically oriented practices that preserve products through principles like durability and recyclability. McDaniel cites John Cobb’s and Charles Birch’s ecomanifesto in this regard: “Manufactured goods will be built to last; durability will replace planned obsolescence. Wherever possible materials will be recycled.”52 Hence, reactions like awe, silence, letting-be, and responsible utility would oppose and restrict the severe instrumentalism, exploitation, domination, consumption, and disposability that inhere in modern science, industry, and technology. And so, when creation is considered a gift in all its aporeticity, its tension is honored and faithfully reflected only when its reception involves an oscillation between both its aspects: exchange (instrumentality, use) and excess (silence, trembling, letting-be). Once again, Heidegger proves illuminating when it comes to using; as Foltz explains: “The German schonen [“saving”] does not mean to refrain from using something or to set it aside, but to use it in such a way that harm is not inflicted upon it; used reflexively or with regard to things, it means ‘to look after’” and “to use it while nevertheless keeping it sound and intact.”53 Hence, “Using must be sharply distinguished from mere utilizing, exploiting, and using up—all of which represent degenerate kinds of using.” Heidegger instructs: “Mortals dwell in that they save the earth—taking the word in the old sense. . . . Saving does not only snatch something from a danger. To save really means to set something free into its own presencing. To save the earth is more than to exploit it or even wear it out. Saving the earth does not master the earth and does not subjugate it, which is merely one step from spoiliation.”54 In his Heideggerian meditation, Foltz perfectly captures an oscillational relation between saving, using, and letting-be: “It [saving] means, rather, to allow the earth to be earth—to allow the earth its own self-seclusion and withdrawal as well as to allow its supporting and nourishing character. This, in turn, entails a

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using of the earth rather than some sort of pseudo-respectful onlooking. But it must be a . . . responsive use [schonen] that allows the earth to reveal its sustaining power . . .”55 Fascinatingly, one may locate or figure the call for an oscillation between use and a saving/letting-be in the NRSV translation of Genesis 2.15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” “To till” is to cultivate or produce; “to keep” (in this particular context) is to save or sustain; the command is given that there be a double movement in terms of the way the creation-gift is received: on the one hand, there should be a certain agricultural use of the garden-gift and, on the other, it should be “kept” or saved, allowed to let-be.56 But how does theology treat the question of the creation-gift’s instrumentality? A rare and remarkable passage on the inherent goodness of creation-gifts and a concomitant responsible use appears in one of Augustine’s letters: “Use the world, as not abusing it, so that with its good things you may do good, not become bad through possessing them. Because these things are in themselves good, and are not given to men [sic] except by Him. . . .”57 Note the fact that Augustine is here insisting that, while there is a degree of instrumentalism and possessiveness at work, it should not lead to the abuse of things—not only because they are divine gifts but “because these things are in themselves good.” Augustine urges a responsible use for the sake of the things themselves—as well as for God’s sake. In the following text, Leo the Great (fifth century) also urges a responsible use of gifted creation-things: “For not only are spiritual riches and heavenly gifts received from God, but earthly and material possessions also proceed from His bounty, that He may be justified in requiring an account of those things which He has not so much put in our possession as committed to our stewardship. God’s gifts, therefore, we must use properly and wisely, lest the material for good work should become an occasion of sin.”58 This passage merits several comments. Observe how the first part of the first sentence is quite inclusive: Leo weakens the hierarchical bifurcation between “spiritual riches and heavenly gifts” and “earthly and material possessions,” for they all “proceed” from the divine—even though the bifurcation remains in the construal of all things spiritual as “gifts” and all things corporeal as “possessions.” Now, the second part of the first sentence and the first part of the second sentence are extremely significant according to the present discussion on instrumentality, for they introduce the question of stewardship, which ordinarily has to do with the responsible use of things in God’s service. Leo’s text accords with this definition: The creationgifts or “material possessions” are themselves cast theocentrically. They are not the “possessions” of humans in any absolute, capitalistic sense but rather things “committed to our stewardship.” Stewardship destabilizes any notion of absolute


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human authority over creation: The Earth remains God’s. Furthermore, the notion of “responsible use” moves away from the idea of an unscrupulous plundering of things for human manipulation and consumption: Leo indicates a certain responsibility toward things, even though the motivation is theological (the specter of sin) rather than ecological. The link between creation-gifts and stewardship is identified centuries later in McDaniel’s Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals. To begin with, McDaniel proposes an oscillating eco-praxis, whereby matter has intrinsic value but may be accessed via “kindly use” (Wendell Berry’s term). Informed by biblical figurations of human-land relations, McDaniel argues that human stewardship should be marked by the attitudes of love, unity, dependency, and indebtedness. This kind of nuanced stewardship exceeds an anthropocentric stewardship that opens onto “resource management” and outright exploitation. It is at this point of the text that McDaniel introduces the notion of the soil as a gift: “It [the soil] is a ‘gift’ to us even as it has life for itself. It is a gift in the sense that it is given to our species, and other species as well . . . it is a godsend, an unasked for and unmerited foundation for our existence and that of other creatures.”59 But, McDaniel does not propose a one-way gifting. He argues that the soil-gift may be “complemented” by also proposing that “we humans can be gifts to the soil. Just as the soil can be an instrument for our purposes, so we can be an instrument for its well-being. . . . by acting to preserve and maintain its health and integrity.”60 Now, according to our study, the notion that “we humans can be gifts to the soil” may be, “strictly speaking,” perhaps a rhetorical or heuristic advice, for identification of the gift is, as far as we can tell, part of the human hermeneutical enterprise: To propose a certain intention possessed by the soil is anthropomorphic—though its possibility shouldn’t be hubristically rejected. Whatever the case, what should be stressed is that the issue of return enters McDaniel’s striking account: The gratuitous gift of the soil is complemented when we giftrecipients return the gift by being gifts ourselves. While there is certainly a logic of accounting at work here—which complicates or annuls the gift’s linearity— this return is nevertheless ecological: Without some reciprocity, stewardly use risks turning into abuse. Interestingly, Wallace couples the gift and stewardship, but for the sake of critiquing stewardship from a biblical perspective: “Nature is valued for its utility for humankind because it is God’s gift for the care and preservation of human communities. The problem with this seemingly scripturally sanctioned, human-centered ethic, however, is that it does not tell the whole story concerning the biblical view of nature.”61 What is the whole story? The Bible is marked by anthropocentric and biocentric texts. Wallace powerfully recalls the Book of Job and the way in which it decenters and resituates human beings in “the fragile

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economy of the wild and sacred world of creation.” 62 Wallace implores that we heed its biocentrism, which means superseding stewardship and honoring the Earth’s autonomy; he concludes (with emphasis): “Instead of paternalistically arrogating to ourselves the role of being divinely appointed stewards over all living things, we would serve creation better by refiguring ourselves as temporary sojourners on the earth who should practice a “hands-off” ethic toward other life-forms.” 63 Therefore, instead of “protection and stewardship,” Wallace provocatively calls for letting-be. Stewardship is also problematic with its strongly mercantile resonance: Things are considered “resources” (capital, stock, property)—including “human resources.” The commercial dimension to stewardship is reinforced by Leo’s text, with his utilization of terms like “possessions” and “requiring an account.” Further objections arise in terms of the “Other” that stewardship is supposed to represent. First, in light of the undecidability and radically ecumenical openness that marks the present aporetics, the question of a divine other is here suspended (i.e., deferred but also playing along the margins): Ultimately, a monotheistic stewardship could only be practiced if the question of this “Other” is closed or fixed; stewardship is therefore a limited response based on a limited characterization of divinity. It loses a certain degree of its force (and appeal) in the context of a radical ecumenism. Moreover, even if one identifies a divine cocreator or cogift-giver, and is therefore able to apply the principle of stewardship, this identification is problematic insofar as stewardship has been historically linked with the dominant (and domineering) depictions of deity. Wallace correctly identifies a relation between a monarchical model of God and stewardship. Now, keeping in mind Wallace’s powerful critique and our additional concerns, I would nevertheless caution against the wholesale elimination of the possibility of stewardship as one kind of response to the creation-gift—once again, it needn’t be a case of either/or. McDaniel’s nuanced reconfiguration of this ageold principle is ecological and biblical, and it certainly moves away from any classical and problematic formulation. Like Wallace, McDaniel attempts to refigure stewardship as a low-impact reception of the creation-gift. In the open and oscillational spirit of this study, the following possibility is offered: That a nuanced, kindly ecostewardship forms but one of our responses toward the creation-gift. Both-and. Playing (Gently) with Creation Our response to the creation-gift should not freeze with undeniably admirable responses like letting-be or eco-instrumentality or any other one reaction. If creation is a gift, we would also (and often do) respond with the exemplary reac-


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tion of delight. One finds the call for enjoyment in several scholarly writings. When Russell Belk, for instance, outlines a number of characteristics of the gift, he includes the gift’s ability to delight.64 Even more poignantly for a study that promotes vacillation between competing responses, McFague intimates an oscillation between utility and enjoyment when, in relation to the question of other-than-human animals, she rhetorically asks: “Do we not also delight in them and value them, not just for their usefulness to us . . .?” 65 The “also” signals the both-and of fluctuation. Hence, while an oscillational use of the creation-gift is a proper response to it, its enjoyment is another, perfectly proper response. Indeed, it is perhaps the most appropriate proactive response toward the gift, reflecting the gift’s gratuity. To begin with, pleasure surpasses calculation. Fox, for instance, announces: “Living without a why means enjoying gifts . . .” 66 Delighting in the gift transgresses the epistemic desire for knowledge of origins and outcomes. A certain “Delightenment” would counteract the excesses of Enlightenment. The playful recipient enjoys the gift beyond intention, utility, or possession. Taylor identifies a relation between play, its transgression of reason(s), and gratuity. The remarkable (and hyperbolic) passage warrants lengthy citation: Play is, first of all, purposeless. The player . . . needs no goals, rewards, or results. . . . Play ends when it is taken seriously or is pursued for the sake of a definite purpose. In a certain sense, play, in contrast to work(s), has no reason. . . . Play, which is always free and can never be bought, breaks the closed circuit of appropriation that characterizes utilitarian consumerism. Though play is all-consuming and allpossessing, players neither consume nor possess. . . . [P]lay appears to be totally frivolous. . . . As a result of its purposelessness and insubstantiality, play appears to be completely gratuitous.67

Purposelessness is the (often forgotten) other of severely “purposeful” phenomena (i.e., totalizing discourses and practices). Enjoyment, marked as it is by purposelessness, therefore resists those excessive phenomena that contribute to the ecological crisis. Enjoyment destabilizes the threat that comes from the “utilitarian consumerism” that exceeds any appropriate use of the creation-gift. Webb discusses the theologian Horace Bushnell with regard to the turn to play: “History shows religion evolving from the labor of the law to the spontaneity of play. Work, he [Bushnell] thought, designates conscious, intended effort, whereas play is carefree and formless, and he was glad that religion, in his day, was moving into its proper sphere in the impulsive free play of the human spirit liberated from the oppressively goal-driven constraints of labor.”68 Webb also cites Norman O. Brown with regard to the relation between gifting and

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playing: “Giving is a way of celebrating the life instinct by fusing sexual desire and social needs in a playful, earthy exuberance.”69 Playing with the gift counteracts the work and calculation involved with its return. In the text upon which the present thesis turns, Given Time, purposeless celebration is also celebrated; Derrida depicts the practice of smoking according to a vocabulary of a playful excess: “unproductive expenditure” / “luxury,” “expending at a pure loss, for pure auto-affective pleasure,” “the object of a pure and luxurious consumption,” “gratuitous and therefore costly, an expenditure at a loss that produces a pleasure.”70 Celebration is linked to gratuity in a “desire beyond need”: “The offering and the use of tobacco give access to honor and virtue by raising one above the pure and simple economic circulation of socalled natural needs and productions, above the level of the necessary. It is the moment of celebration and luxury, of gratuity as well as liberty.”71 Enjoyment is also linked to surprise and wonder: “Pleasure is always and first of all the pleasure of being surprised. . . . The cause of pleasure in the other is surprise, the passion of wonder, as at the origin of philosophy (the thaumazein [wonder] as originary pathos of the philosopher, according to Socrates in the Theaetetus, since philosophy has no other cause).”72 Enjoying the tobacco-gift or philosophy (both of which can be gift/Gift) stands in stark contrast to the calculation and violence that marks much of our reception of the matrix of beings. For anyone who finds this affirmation of enjoyment scandalous and, by implication, immoral, there is certainly an ethos to fun. Play is responsible in its resistance to totalization. Peter Quigley succinctly sums it up: “Play is not to be understood in the sense of irresponsibility, but in the sense of dissent from the seriousness of those who claim to possess the truth that can be structured and enforced.”73 So there is also a certain humility in frivolity: Play and humility distance themselves from any totalizing truths. Play resists the excesses of techne¯ and episte¯me¯. One may even suggest that playing points to a kind of ecopolitics. Kate Soper sketches a relation between social change and an “alternative hedonist vision” in her book What Is Nature?74 She proposes: “Our experience of life might, after all, be altogether more heady and exotic were it to be less narrowly fixated on the acquisition of resource-hungry, cumbersome, short-lived, junk-creating commodities.”75 An ecoplayful society entails neither “mass conversion to otherworldliness” nor a reduction of living standards but rather “an altered conception of the standard itself.” Key features of a playful world would include “space to play and time to be idle” and a willingness to “pay the price in terms of a more modest and less privatized structure of material satisfactions.” Enjoyment and its interrelated phenomena (affirmation, celebration, pleasure, idleness, etc.) not only respect and reflect the gratuity of the gift but obviously contribute ecologically by being much less disfigurative and destructive. (As ex-


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plained above, we cannot avoid all forms of violence.) Rather than being manipulated to the point of destruction, creation is played with. We delight in it rather than totalize it and profit from it. Enjoyment of the gift, together with hesychia, humility, and letting-be, all contribute to an eco-ethos that responds to the gift’s prior-ity and gratuity. In what ways are divinity, freely given creation, and enjoyment related? The idea of enjoying and playing with the gift and the creation-gift has a long history. First, certain scriptural moments present a playful correlation between a divine (co)creator and creation. Keller proposes that the biblical reaction to creation in Genesis (“And God saw that it was good”) may not be “mere selfcongratulation” but “spontaneous delight. . . .” Hence, from the very beginning of the Bible, joy is presented as a divine response to creation.76 In Psalm 104, God creates the monstrous Leviathan and lets it play.77 Ecclesiastes 5.18-19 is most remarkable in its support for enjoying creation—and that this enjoyment is itself a divine gift: “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he [sic] enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God.” Theology has also identified the link between divinity and play. For Angelus Silesius, not only do creatures play with themselves and each other but also with the divine: “God plays with creation.”78 Moltmann figures the God who “rests” on the seventh day (Genesis 2.3-4) as the God who celebrates: “The resting God, the celebrating God, the God who rejoices over his [sic] creation . . .”79 Ecobiblical exegetes like Keller and Carol A. Newsom discern a kind of ecological jouissance in the Book of Job. Newsom notes: “This new image is one of God as a power for life, balancing the needs of all creatures, not just humans, cherishing freedom, full of fierce love and delight for each thing without regard for its utility . . .”80 There are also several theological moments that explicitly stress enjoyment of the creation-gift(s). One of the earliest instances of the pairing of “creation” and “gift” in recorded Christian theology promotes the enjoyment of corporeal gifts. Citing Psalm 104.15, Ignatius (30-107 CE) advises: “‘Wine makes glad the heart of man, and oil exhilarates, and bread strengthens him.’ But all are to be used with moderation, as being the gifts of God.”81 While the statement from Ignatius demonstrates a kind of instrumentality, it is nevertheless mediated by restraint and enjoyment: Creation-gifts like wine, oil, and bread are not to be abused, for they are divinely gifted. Tertullian also displays the sentiment of delight when he mentions “my present enjoyment of the earthly gift.”82 Likewise, Augustine urges enjoyment of corporeal gifts, a rare summons that is ecologically powerful: “Who has not this Mercy of God . . . that

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he enjoys this light, this air, rain, fruits, diversity of seasons, and all the earthly comforts, health of body, the affection of friends, the safety of his family? All these are good, and they are God’s gifts . . .”83 Rather than emphasizing indebtedness toward the richness of creation, Chrysostom—citing Paul—encourages delight: “‘But in the living God,’ he [Paul] says, ‘who gives us richly all things to enjoy.’ [1 Tm 6.17c] This ‘all things richly’ is justly spoken, in reference to the changes of the year, to air, light, water, and other gifts. For how richly and ungrudgingly are all these bestowed!”84 The call for the response of delight is also promoted by Aquinas, and even explicitly contrasted with the response of indebtedness: “Gift as a personal name in God does not imply subjection [an extreme form of indebtedness], but only origin, as regards the giver; but as regards the one to whom it is given, it implies a free use, or enjoyment . . .”85 With a little help from ex nihilo, Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) also joyfully declares: “It is an inestimable joy that I was raised out of nothing to see and enjoy this glorious world: It is a Sacred Gift . . .”86 Andrew Murray ponders the idea of an enjoyable return of creation-gifts in The Deeper Christian Life. During my retracing of pre-twentieth-century theology’s treatment of the gift, I cited Murray’s instruction that “the reality of the enjoyment is in the giving back.” Now, while there is a risk with the notion that the joy of gift-receiving exclusively resides in the gift-returning—which would threaten the gift’s gratuity—the identification of enjoyment with return is nevertheless significant and promising on two counts. First of all, it refigures giftexchange in more positive, affirmative terms: Return or reciprocation is rethought as a pleasant pursuit rather than an onerous act of obligation. This refiguration has ecological import: Our relationality is not exclusively construed as a “burden” but (also) as a delight. Interconnectedness and interindebtedness— axiomatic for ecological thought—are reconstrued in constructive terms, whereby the creation-gift becomes a site for reciprocity and gratitude as well as squandering and gratuity. Gift-exchange, while still remaining paradoxical, is nevertheless recast as both enjoyable and highly ecological. This line of thinking and acting is crucial in an age of hyperindividualism, whereby radical theory, in its noble pursuit to save singularity from totalitarianism, has perhaps become somewhat biased against circularity (relation, reciprocity). Ecology—a rigorous ecology—fundamentally has to do with the maintenance of the tension between individuation and relation. Both-and. In an epoch where the singular is privileged, signaling the joy of relationality and interindebtedness proves to be a powerful way of reaffirming our interconnectivity. Ecological thought reminds us that gifting is—and can be—an enjoyable gifting-with. Now, Murray has more to say regarding the enjoyment of the gift and its return. During a discourse that follows his comments on the enjoyment of rec-


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iprocity, he delivers another relevant passage, which deserves to be extensively cited because it is a rare theological example of a more sustained (and extremely exuberant) reflection wrestling with the paradox of gifting: God gives all, I receive all, I give all. . . . God does so rejoice in what we give to Him [sic]. It is not only I that am the receiver and the giver, but God is the Giver and the Receiver too, and, may I say it with reverence, has more pleasure in the receiving back than even in giving. With our little faith we often think they [gifts] come back to God again all defiled. God says, ‘No, they come back beautiful and glorified’; . . . with a new value and beauty. Ah! child of God you do not know how precious the gift that you bring to your Father, is in His sight. Have I not seen a mother give a piece of cake, and the child comes and offers her a piece to share it with her? How she values the gift! And your God, oh, my friends, your God, His heart, His Father’s heart of love, longs, longs, longs to have you give Him everything. It is not a demand. It is a demand, but it is not a demand of a hard Master, it is the call of a loving Father, who knows that every gift you bring to God will bind you closer to Himself. . . . Oh, friends! a gift to God has in His sight infinite value. It delights Him.87

The call for delighting in the creation-gift is also registered by modern theology. Moltmann, for instance, stresses that God’s day of rest (Genesis 2.23) and the sabbath commandment (Exodus 20.8-11) signify the requirement for doing otherwise than working: The time is taken for humans and other-thanhuman others to enjoy and celebrate creation. In Leviticus 25.4 and 25.11, this instruction is ecodemocratically extended to all of creation: Moses is instructed that every seventh year “there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land . . .” and that, during every fiftieth year (Jubilee), humans are to do the same. Sabbath and Jubilee are strong ecological phenomena: They allow the Earth to recover and become.88 Recalling divine recreation, McDaniel also urges us to enjoy creation, thoughts that echo Murray’s: “To share with humans and with other creatures that capacity to enjoy, and indeed to enjoy our joy, must be one of God’s supreme pleasures.”89 Sittler relates enjoyment to letting-be and, recalling Augustine, figures enjoyment as a primary relation to creation: “To enjoy means to let a thing be itself and rejoice in it. So the first relation we have to the earth is to enjoy it . . . because, says Augustine, if you enjoy a thing, you will not abuse it.”90 Of course, according to oscillation, it may perhaps not be “the first relation” but it is definitely a fundamental one that pivots with some other principal reactions and responses—though we ecological hedonists are certainly attracted to the idea of the primacy of joy. Fox’s Eckhartian thoughts should also be registered in this

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regard. Citing Eckhart, Fox concludes the (above-mentioned) discourse on Gelassenheit and hesychia by connecting a “gentle and receptive silence” to a return to God that invites free play: “We shall be free—as free as God is—to play ‘by his side . . . delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in the world.’”91 Webb, too, affirms joyful gifting in the following statement: “The communion meal that looks forward to the Messianic banquet makes giving not only concrete but also festive. Giving occurs not only through suffering but also joy.”92 Schmitz also affirms creation’s celebratory relationality according to the logic of gifting: “The gift, then, is the medium in and through which giver and recipient affirm their being-in-the-world-together. It is the place of the celebration of their co-presence.”93 As I noted in chapter 3, one of Caputo’s queries to Marion at the conclusion of the Villanova exchange is, in effect, a call to receiving creation in an affirmative and celebratory way: “If creation is a gift, then it is not a debt but something we affirm and celebrate.” I will return to this either/or (expressed in the form of a “not/but”) shortly, but Caputo’s call for affirmation is certainly affirmed here. With Nietzsche, Derrida, Caputo, and Horner, I agree that we (especially the religious) have not properly affirmed and celebrated creation, having, on the contrary, focused on obligations and returns. Now, Caputo’s call for celebration may be traced back to a text like The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, where he points toward “a theology of the world as gift,” and the kingdom of God that would accompany it. His remarks on the place of play are typically inspiring: “The kingdom is a kingdom of children at play, playing with the freedom of the children of God.”94 The creation-gift: a playground. Of course, a radically ecological playground would be one in which all things are allowed to play freely. The above reflections on joy and playfulness not only reflect the gratuity of the gift: from an explicitly matter-affirming perspective, they contrast sharply with any residual asceticism that, by definition, is marked by a disdain for the corporeal. To play joyfully with corporeality is to respect and reflect its giftness. It is therefore an active response par excellence; indeed, it should become more prevalent. Rather than focusing on indebtedness and obligation, we subjects should enjoy the gift more. Playing with creation would obviously contribute to the resistance against domineering and damaging circumscription and abuse. However, a crucial caveat comes with this playing: We must gently celebrate, affirm, and conserve creation, rather than deplete it or wear it out. Our interaction would not mirror much of the existing kind of play that often turns out to be one of outright commodification, consumption, and destruction. Chris Ryan, who negotiates the question of the relation between tourism and the environment, notes the ways in which our recreation activities adversely affect the


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planet: The various pollutions (air, water, noise); the disturbance of animals’ breeding patterns, nests, feeding sites, and migration patterns; the introduction of new, problematic flora and fauna; trampling effects, such as scarring, widening of tracks, erosion of vegetation, etc.; the alteration and extinction of ecosystems; the erosion of water quality and its effects on its inhabitants.95 One can cite alpine recreation as a specific example. Ryan recalls the following facts regarding tourism in the European Alps: That magnificent mountain range is visited by 40 to 50 million people each year, producing high levels of air and noise pollution; the infrastructure of more than 40,000 ski runs, 12,000 ski lifts, and tree-felling not only radically disfigure the Alps’ flora and fauna, but, as the creation-gift is a matrix of beings-in-relation, this disfiguration inevitably produces other related problems, such as the alteration of drainage patterns, leading to mudslides and landslides.96 Recreation as it stands (tourism/leisure/entertainment) may not necessarily involve any intended (or malicious) disfiguration of creation—at least on behalf of tourists and other pleasure-seekers, even though we are certainly implicated in recreation’s discreative impact. But the recreation industries generate or intensify the demand for leisure activities and, in an age where every thing has a use and a price, tourism and entertainment operators may often be motivated by the almighty dollar rather than any desire to encourage a playful relation with creation. Ultimately, the question of recreation involves a critique of anthropocentric-capitalistic economics and politics—the details of which lie beyond the scope of the present study but which must be signaled nonetheless: The call for play is obscured in the context of an ever-encroaching global economics driven by profit, which often only appears to feign environmental concern, and where government and industry is slowly forced to implement policies of sustainability. In such a largely antiecological socioeconomic context, our squandering free-for-all recreationalism certainly leads to disfigurement and discreation, as is the case with unbridled snow skiing, unrestricted “game” fishing, and so on. It is important to register (if not detail) the dangers involved with recreation not only because of its embeddedness—and therefore complicity with— its rather dubious socioeconomic frameworks, but also because of the present work’s strong espousal and elevation of play, which should be differentiated from an approval of society’s increasing tendency toward a destructive hedonism. An endorsement of the rise of pleasure is not a sweeping endorsement of the status quo in all its complexity. Any detailed advocacy of an ecological hedonism must therefore be strongly qualified on several fronts; otherwise, “play” will continue to contribute to the disfiguration of the planet and its compliance with the ecosocially regressive elements of existing power relations. Of course, amid a cri-

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tique of the status quo and recreation’s involvement in it, we mustn’t forget that enjoyable pursuits like snow skiing are not purely and simply econegative phenomena. Once again, we draw on the “both-and” here: Recreation can be both antiecological and ecological. Ryan discusses tourism as both “a threat” to, and “an ally” of, the environment.97 Ecologist Michael Liddle also figures recreation as a both-and for the environment. He concludes his weighty, scientific study of recreation’s impact on the environment, titled Recreation Ecology, with the following statement: “Recreation ecology may then be regarded as the science of a destructive process, but if people’s reverence for life is increased by visiting the natural environment, then it is possible that the overall effect will be beneficial for the survival of the world’s biota.”98 Liddle’s empirical data obviously demonstrates that our recreationalism can often be disastrous. But what about the upside—the possibility of “increased reverence”? This “if” is obviously unquantifiable, but our reverence for phusis can arise and increase with recreation visits that interrupt our absentmindedness and complacency. Take the above example of snow skiing: That kind of environment can certainly evoke feelings of awe and exhilaration in one’s encounter with majestic mountains. Of course, we must always be wary that any reverence can also be thwarted or spoilt by our instrumentalistic tendencies: Our recreationalism always risks reducing others to mere playthings. How, then, would we be able to participate in more ecoplayful interactions with the environment—ones that reflect its giftness? While Ryan and other writers discuss the efficacy of specific measures (such as zoning, dispersion, “soft tourism,” “green policies,” visitor management and monitoring, etc.), we recall here but one of our fundamental responses: letting-be.99 What this means for play is that it be restricted to certain areas: Recreation should not be an allencompassing process of production and consumption. Of course, this delimitation applies most urgently—but certainly not solely or even primarily—to forest areas, particularly the Earth’s disappearing rainforests. With reference to our example of alpine expansionism, such pronounced “development” must be drastically restricted. Restricting ourselves allows others to be. Unlike our current exploitation and commodification of the environment, a responsible restrictiveness respects our play partners. Thus, an ecoplayfulness would not exclude other gift-responses (like letting-be) but would involve them—indeed, oscillate with them—ensuring a gentler recreationality. And so, perceiving what-is as a gift may direct humans toward more ecoplayful relationships with it, thereby dislodging the increasingly dominant relations of disfigurement and destruction. Not only is a gentler recreation good for creation, it is imperative we enjoy—rather than destroy—ourselves and each other. The gift’s survival depends on it.


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Refiguring Religious Return One could propose that the response of enjoyment doesn’t just reflect the gift’s gratuity, but it also and already reflects its aspect of identification; in other words, the subject consciously enjoys the gift because it has been identified as such. Enjoyment arises according to the act of recognition. But playfulness is certainly not laden with a sense of owing: If jouissance is a response, then it is a kind of response-without-return. After all, play does not dwell on calculation, indebtedness, or repayment. How, then, should more heavily circular responses to the creation-gift be construed—and one immediately thinks of religious responses (sacrifice, tithe, obligation, thanksgiving)? Should they be abandoned as responses to the gift? While the gift-recipient should certainly—we are tempted to say “primarily”— receive it in enjoyment, a resolutely oscillational encounter with what-is should not cease. As is the case with non- or less-circular responses like instrumentality and playfulness, there is a place—a wide expanse—for “passive” returns (such as letting-be) as well as “active” returns that are exemplified by religiosity. Before we address the particular response of religious return, we should begin by pointing out that the creation-gift and its gifts cannot be “returned” in any literal-equivalent way. A more nuanced term is “exchange,” and one that is even more positively charged is “reciprocity.” As I noted in my discussion of Caputo’s evocation of this term, reciprocity does two important things. First, it refigures exchange in “softer” terms. Unlike debt-ridden “return,” reciprocity takes place in a context of openness and mutuality; it attempts to negotiate the call for return without its attendant logic of burden. Stated otherwise: Reciprocation is otherwise than obligation. Second, reciprocity reflects our interdependency, thereby resonating ecologically. This contrasts sharply with our hyperindividualism (whose mantra, as Marion rightly recites repeatedly, is “I don’t owe anything to anybody”). Reciprocity is a recognition of “owing,” but an owing that may be differentiated from a cumbersome duty or liability. The place of reciprocity is crucial in the resistance to the objectification of creation as “a plaything” (strictly for one’s amusement, disposable). Foltz cites this risk as it relates to other-than human phusis in his criticism of Lévinas: “Even in the work of Lévinas, nature seems to be nothing more than a source for ‘objects of enjoyment’—a view unlikely to promote more than indirect regard for the natural environment in its own right.”100 While we obviously support Foltz in his stance against the objectification of creation, we should also insist that nature (which includes ourselves) should be enjoyed—though not just enjoyed. Furthermore, Lévinasian enjoyment (to which I duly return) is counteracted by a profound ethicism. But Foltz’s concern about this kind of objecti-

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fication is certainly legitimate and therefore needs to be acknowledged and considered: If creation is exclusively figured as an object of enjoyment, then an excessive instrumentalism overwhelms our interactivity. Following on from our cautionary remarks in relation to ecoplay, we emphasize that a wildlife “park” should not be construed simply as a piece of commodified creation to be consumed by “wildlife lovers” (akin to a theme park that is visited by all-consuming “fun lovers”), a crucial point incisively raised by Heidegger with his example of the Rhine River, which has not only been forced to become a “water power supplier” but also “an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.”101 When creation is challenged and set up according to often-burdensome human manipulation and utilization, the gift becomes objectified, its excess is denied, and its giftness is consequently threatened. Therefore, while we gift-recipients should certainly play with the gift (as well as respond to it in terms of hesychia, Gelassenheit, and so on), there is also a certain requirement (and space) for those responses that are explicitly circular (gratitude, praise, etc.). Since exchange (indebtedness, reciprocity) would be included as one of our responses to the Earth-gift, one is better able to register a further problem with the excesses of Nietzschean and Emersonian squandering: The idea of an excessive and exclusive play or expenditure without reserve risks leaving no room for indebtedness. Webb considers Emerson as a classic protagonist of debtfree expenditure: “With an inestimable influence, Emerson was the first to articulate the North American [or, more broadly, Western] fantasy of acting the spendthrift without incurring any debt.”102 Elsewhere, Webb instructs: “Taking the liberal position to the extreme would glorify giving without counting the cost that generosity often entails.”103 This notion of expenditure without reserve is ecologically risky—disastrous—because it promotes the notion that the matrix of beings is an endless resource or standing-reserve able to be expended in an all-consuming manner. Excessive squandering leaves no room for Gelassenheit and reciprocity. Excessive and constant consumption and consumerism lead to the destructive disfiguration of the creation-gift, a violence inflicted and witnessed by us today. If enjoyment is to be an ecologically responsible response to this gift, then it cannot be an all-consuming expenditure. Now, according to an oscillational thinking of gifting, how would the specific phenomenon of religious return (sacrifice, praise, etc.) be figured? Once again, I preface my remarks by acknowledging that there is no denying the contradictoriness of the tension, made starker when considering Christian returns of the gift because, as I noted in my retracing of the word “gift,” the notion of the unconditional gift—exemplified by grace—is fundamental: The belief that God gifts unconditionally is axiomatic. But Christendom binds its gift-recipients


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(believers) to its God with all kinds of indebting practices; a logic of restitution pervades the religious. In accordance with the radical gratuity professed by Christian gifting, thinkers like Nietzsche, Derrida, Caputo, and Horner justifiably protest against Christendom’s mercantilism. These critics rightly insist that Jesus’ most miraculous Geniestreich consists in his transgression of calculative giving—the transgression of a religiosity that binds (religare). Commendably, Horner calls into question this kind of accounting: “Much religious mentality is devoted to a calculation of debts.”104 Too much devotion to calculation. However, this justified criticism may be recontextualized according to an oscillational thinking of gifting—one which reflects Christianity’s Geniestreiche. Despite the legitimate criticisms aimed at Christian mercantilism, there is a certain validity in the religious response of return (thanksgiving, indebtedness): Response and reciprocity correspond to the circular in the gift. To deny any return or reciprocity would deny the gift’s undeniable and irresolvable aporeticity. There is a long but rather sparse theological tradition of returning (thanking, owing) God for God’s creation-gifts. Irenaeus, for instance, determines that the offering of thanks is appropriate for the divine gifting of created things: “Now we make offering to Him [God; sic], not as though He stood in need of it, but rendering thanks for His gift, and thus sanctifying what has been created.”105 Martin Luther (1483–1546) replaces animal sacrifice with thanksgiving: “We first should offer unto Christ, not oxen or cattle, but ourselves, acknowledging God’s gifts, corporal and spiritual, temporal and eternal, and giving him thanks for them.”106 In a homily entitled “The Germination of the Earth,” Basil (fifth century CE) feels obligated by the sheer richness and beneficence of what-is: “In the rich treasures of creation it is difficult to select what is most precious; the loss of what is omitted is too severe . . . What then? Shall we show no gratitude for so many beneficial gifts . . .?”107 The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing (fourteenth century) advises that we should react to “the wonderful gifts, kindness, and works of God in all His creatures bodily and ghostly with thanking and praising.”108 To be sure, the gift’s circularity is sometimes figured in extremely harsh terms. François Fénelon (1651–1715), for instance, demands—perhaps rhetorically and certainly dramatically—that the divine gift be returned: “What do you have which belongs to thee? What do you have which did not come from on high, and ought not to return there? Everything, yes, even this I which would divide with God his gifts, is a gift of God, and was only made for Him . . .”109 Of course, this is an extreme position: The gift loses all gratuity and linearity according to a logic and language of a divine ownership that is never relinquished. The creation-gift continues to evoke feelings of gratitude and return today. At one point in God in Creation, when Moltmann remarks that “the world

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is God’s creation and his gift,” he declares that “the person who thanks, lays the given and accepted gift before the giver.”110 Thanking is here conceived as accepting-and-returning. Of course, one should be wary of any kind of crippling thanksgiving, that is, a thanksgiving that would not make room for its other— a kind of “not-thanking” or “in-gratitude”—that mirrors the gift’s gratuity. But Moltmann is somewhat excessive when he defines human beings in precisely the terms of thanksgiver: “To express the experience of creation in thanksgiving and praise is [the human being’s] designation from the very beginning . . .”111 Webb is also somewhat excessive in his registration of the place and significance of return: “What God gives is both God’s self and the givenness of things that allows us to recognize, multiply, and return God’s gifts.”112 Theology thereby usually returns the gift in various degrees of acuteness: from indebtedness and thanksgiving to sacrificing and returning. And the response of “return” has a rightful response if creation is a gift that is perhaps divinely cogiven. But our responses should certainly not end with liability; indeed, they should not end at all: Our modes of reception should oscillate. I am now better placed to work through the two all-important questions and the proposition submitted by Caputo at the end of the Villanova exchange: “[1] Should anyone end up in debt from a gift? [2] Should we be in debt to God for the gift of creation? [3] If creation is a gift, then it is not a debt but something we affirm and celebrate.” To begin with, should we end up in debt from a gift? Whether we like it or not, we do end up feeling obliged in some sense, insofar as we recognize a gift, even in its gratuity, and thereby respond according to different modes of return. Without a doubt, any indebtedness should be offset by the recognition that the gift (unlike the transaction) also releases us from its debt. Both-and. Applying this “both-and” to God and creation, the following proposition may be offered: If God co-gifts creation, then we are both indebted and released from debt. We gift-recipients swing between restitution and its dissolution. Herein lies the very challenge of Christianity’s Geniestreiche. According to a logic of oscillation, Horner’s powerful contention that we “owe God nothing” thereby requires modification: We owe and not-owe God. (If there is any.) Does theology ever attempt to articulate this doubled call of owing (thanking) and not-owing (taking)? I proposed during my discussion of Christianity’s Geniestreiche that the retracing of the gift in theology reveals that thinking the two together had rarely been expressed. There are, however, some moments when this thinking-together is intimated. The work of Thomas Bunyan is one such example—even though, as I noted in the first chapter, he also stresses the gift’s circularity. Nevertheless, in his book The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, Bunyan advocates the paradoxical two-way action of acknowledging the gift with not only unashamed taking and requesting for more, but


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that this requesting-more is itself a giving—the best giving: “God has no need of thy gift, nor Christ of thy bribe, to plead thy cause; take thankfully what is offered, and call for more; that is the best giving to God. God is rich enough; talk not then of giving, but of receiving, for thou art poor. Be not too high, nor think thyself too good to live by the alms of heaven . . .”113 Thanking and squandering are here brilliantly placed side by side. The believing gift-recipient would, according to Bunyan’s thinking, be a grateful squanderer. Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911), who offers more reflections on the other-than-graced gift than most theologians before her, is very commonsensical: “And where a thing is a gift, the only course left for the receiver is to take it and thank the giver.”114 From a religious perspective, the doubled response of taking-and-thanking leads to the issue of praise. Even though Webb figures it as “an excessive display of gratitude,” there may also be some gratuity in it, for it is both a festive gratitude and a grateful festivity. The philosophical theologian Jean-Louis Chrétien reflects on the doublesidedness of praise in The Unforgettable and the Unhoped For when he considers “praise, and thus the thank you and the yes, as the highest possibility of speech.”115 If this is the case, then praise appears to be an eminently suitable twin response to the gift. The “thank you” returns the gift; the “yes” keeps it. Praise involves identification and celebration. My only concern is that praise has perhaps conventionally connoted acknowledgment more than it has suggested delightenment. In other words, if praise is/has been more of a thanking than a taking (and I suspect that it is/has been), then it would risk reemphasizing the gift’s circularity at the expense of its linearity. If so, then praise should (also) be more jovial. Both-and.

Secular Hedonism as Not-Owing Acknowledging the place of religious return, Horner’s emphasis on not-owing nevertheless needs to be heeded. Recalling, once more, the thoughts expressed during the discussion of Christianity’s genius, I would contend that Christendom—predominantly shaping and being shaped by theologies and practices of atonement—has focused too much attention on owing divinity. After all, hasn’t the sacrificial Christ been the dominant Christ? Haven’t the churches traded too heavily on the logics of penitence and retribution? Haven’t believers gambled too much on outcomes and afterlives, while neglecting the gift of the present? In light of the excessive attention paid to Christianity’s circularity, there is certainly a need for responding in other ways. But how do we not-owe God for the precious present of what-is (assuming that the divine is a cogiver)? The interrelated responses of affirmation and celebration may be fig-

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ured as exemplary modes of not-owing. Affirmation is a Yes-saying to the creation-gift (a very Nietzschean, antimercantile thing to do): It implies a deviation away from exchange and negotiation, for affirmation is an act motivated by joy rather than duty. An affirmation of the creation-gift also seems to imply a deviation away from the desire to calculate the gift’s worth. Freely given creation is (“simply”) affirmed, rather than circumscribed, instrumentalized, technologized, commodified. Celebration is a really interesting and illuminating response because, while it still resounds with religious meaning and is associated with religious events and religion in general (a priest, for example, is often called a “celebrant”), it has certainly gained a more general signification, denoting the act of enjoying. Indeed, “celebration” may now also refer to the often secular-hedonistic ritualization of affirmation (birthdays, secular weddings, etc.). Celebrating or enjoying the gift is a reception that is noncircular, or, more accurately, less circular: Rather than repaying or returning the gift, the recipient delights in it. While the celebration-reception is still a reaction to the gift, it certainly resists any heavyhanded gift-return. The gift is (“simply”) enjoyed without clear recourse to exchange. One may even propose that which is scandalous to the ethically and religiously zealous: that the more irreligious or secular the celebration, the more respectable the response—at least in terms of the creation-gift’s gratuity. During a conversation between Caputo and myself in 2001, Caputo referred to Lévinas in this respect: Lévinas speaks at the beginning of Totality and Infinity of a kind of natural atheism, where you rejoice in the world for its own sake; which, he thinks, has to be interrupted later or at a higher level by the ethical claim. But first there’s this sphere of a kind of joyous atheism. It is there that he talks about “good soup.” You should be able to enjoy good soup. There needs to be a moment of a kind of felicitous unmindfulness of God in which we take the world that God has given to us without being obsessed with returning it to God.116

First of all, this sentiment captures a sense of an oscillational reception of the creation-gift reflecting its aporeticity: a doubled receptivity. On the one hand, the response of indebtedness corresponds to the gift’s ability to be identified. Hence, ethical and religious obligation is not improper to the reception of the gift. On the other hand, the receptive modes of affirmation, celebration, and enjoyment reflect the gratuitous aspect of the gift. Of course, in a world of heavily religious circularity, the religious Caputo urges us gift-recipients to linger longer on the side of the gift’s gratuity and to respond accordingly—by affirm-


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ing and celebrating. Second, note how this “joyous atheism,” this atheism that is interrupted by the gift’s “identification” as a gift, is a very proper response to the gift of what-is (if it is one. Existentially, aren’t many believers “atheists” in our everydayness in which our absentmindedness is intrrupted by the thought of God?). The interruptive moment is crucial: It differentiates such “atheism” from a more dogmatic, persistent atheism that refuses to acknowledge the possibility of any kind of gift-givers. But why is joyous secularity a wholly appropriate response? First of all, secularity responds to the anonymity of the gift-giver (proposed by the phenomenological Marion) by not really responding at all. A secular “response” approaches nonresponse: The gift is (“simply”) enjoyed rather than acknowledged as a gift that elicits thanksgiving or return. Secularity dissolves—at least for a moment —the “insoluble debt” that Marion’s phenomenology seems to propound, a liability that understandably troubles Caputo. In its non- or quasi-responsiveness, secularization exemplifies resistance to the gift’s overcircularization (calculation, obligation). Furthermore, rethinking secularity as a perfectly proper response to the creation-gift—be it divinely co-donated or otherwise—may perhaps encourage us to forgive and forget each others’ debts: The celebratory moment of secularity may be figured as a moment without calculation. In that moment, debts are forgotten, which, as Nietzsche explains, is more radical than forgiveness. When we are playing with creation—really enjoying it during our moments of joyous secularity—who thinks of debts and collection? When we are having fun, who thinks of their liabilities? For these reasons, the secular moment should be vigorously affirmed. Any return of the gift should be tempered by a secular or “a-theistic” receptivity that is affirmative and celebratory. What this means for the religious is that if the creation-gift is God-given, the gift’s reception should be tempered by both indebtedness and joyous affirmation. Hence, I propose that believers may remain most faithful to the gift-aporia by oscillating between indebtedness and its other. Religiosity and secular hedonism. Together. Both-and. The phrase “post/secular” proves useful here: The forward slash acts as a hinge or pivot upon which religiosity (the “post”) and secularity ceaselessly vacillate, constantly interrupting each other. Oscillation would then move beyond a Lévinasian sequence in which there is first a joyous atheism that is then interrupted and completed by the ethical: A logic of fluctuation elicits a pivoting between these moments, endlessly. The religious disrupts the secular; the secular disrupts the religious. And so on. The carnivalesque is a particularly extraordinary mode of post/secular hedonism, superbly exemplifying the gift’s duality and intimating a way of living Christianity’s Geniestreiche. The OED stipulates that “Carnival” (with a capi-

Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos


tal) refers to: “The season immediately preceding Lent, devoted in Italy and other Roman Catholic countries to revelry and riotous amusement. . . .” Of course, the term “carnival” has gained a broader definition: “Any season or course of feasting, riotous revelry, or indulgence. A fun-fair; circus.” If one perceives what-is as somehow divinely cogiven, then one should oscillate between (religious) Carnival and (secular) carnival. Oscillation would reflect and respect this mad and faithful logic. The post/secular pleasure-seeker playing with creation—perhaps this kind of un/believer would most faithfully reflect Christianity’s really real Geniestreiche.

An Ardor for Arduous Oscillation If creation is a gift, religious return should oscillate with a quasi-Nietzschean squandering and playfulness, together with letting-be and an ecoinstrumental relation. The critique of religion as exemplar of return and indebtedness, a critique that is undeniably valid and crucial, should be considered in the larger context of the gift-aporia: While the gratuity of the gift has certainly been underplayed and the notion of indebtedness overemphasized, any simple reversal or onesidedness would not sufficiently reflect the gift’s aporeticity. A secular enjoyment (affirmation, celebration) should certainly be emphasized, but indebtedness (religious or otherwise) remains a proper response to the creation-gift. Secular joy responds to its gratuity; religious gratitude reflects its circularity. The gift-aporia calls for both kinds of responses; oscillation responds accordingly. Those of us who would interpret creation as a gift would thereby receive-andreturn what-is according to an oscillation marked by ecologically nuanced responses like letting-be, use, enjoyment, and exchange. All of these responses, as divergent as they are, respect and reflect this aporia. Now, one may protest that perpetual vacillation is difficult—we may be prone to favoring one element (or set of responses) over the other. In the previous chapter, I discussed Webb’s citation-objection that “the oscillation between excess and exchange produces theories of gifting that make gift giving an increasingly difficult activity to understand, let alone practice.” I concur. However, this undoubtedly difficult oscillation is evoked by the gift itself: There appears to be no way through this aporia apart from alternating within it. If this is the case, then our thinking will be necessarily “difficult”—and even perplexing, irritating, dizzying—if we are to remain faithful to the gift. Concomitantly, an oscillational practice of gifting (of giving and receiving the gift) is a little maddening—but such is the effect of the gift, and we should be open to it if we are to remain devoted to it.


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Added to, or combined with, the arduousness of a vacillational interface with gift-things is the strenuousness associated with openly receiving them in their givenness. Note Marion’s poignant thought on this matter (which, I should also point out, resonates with a certain both-and logic in its recurring employment of the term “first”): “From now on, it is necessary that we learn to see what shows itself simply and strictly inasmuch as it shows itself, in the absolute freedom of its apparition. There is nothing easy about this apprenticeship, for what shows itself first gives itself and to see what gives itself, we must first renounce constituting and ‘grasping’ it (in the Cartesian sense), in favor of simply receiving it. But to receive, in philosophy as elsewhere—what could be more arduous?”117 We are thereby faced with a double difficulty: to openly receive and oscillationally interact with the given/gift. But let us not forget what is at stake here—the well-being of creation itself, which now depends upon humanity’s proper reception and interaction with it. Nothing could be more arduous— arduous and offensive to the anthropocentrism, instrumentalism, egoism and violence in us and by us—than to wholeheartedly receive and respond to all things thoughtfully, gently. The arduous task of an open and ongoing oscillation thereby requires ardor—for creation’s sake.

After Thought

And so, what if what-is is a gift? In order to broach this question, it is necessary to work through the question that comes before it: What is a gift? As Derrida makes plain in Given Time, a gift is essentially an aporia. But what is an aporia? It may be described topographically: It is a place without passage. The rethinking of gifting undertaken here discloses the following possibility: That we should accept—even embrace—the gift’s paralyzing aporeticity, for we cannot “escape” its heterogeneity (gratuity, gratitude). But how should we think it? While the Bible gathers together a multivalent array of gifts (from enticements to grace), pre-twentieth-century theology rarely refers to the gift’s two-way interactivity, and, even during those moments, does not probe its duality. In its attempt to think the gift, twentieth-century theology is caught up in the gift’s tensile topography, without incisively articulating the necessity and legitimacy of our entanglement. Even Marion’s brilliant philosophical treatment of the gift, which seeks to purify it of its circularity, does not escape the double movement of squandering and indebtedness. Drawing on various aspects of the work of key thinkers considered in this study (Derrida, Marion, Caputo, Webb, Schmitz), I therefore propose that ceaseless oscillation would faithfully respect and reflect the gift’s paradoxicality. Both-and. Armed with hard-working oscillation, one is able to engage the question and possibility of creation as a gift. If what-is is a gift, then its aporeticity requires the double movement of acceptance and return. To begin with, one should acknowledge that the gift’s excess exceeds the active agent who interacts with it. According to this excess, the phenomena of silence and “tremblings” (surprise, wonder) are recognized as ways of inspiring ecological sensibilities. From the perspective of the conscious gift-recipient, the responses of letting-be, instrumentality, enjoyment, and return are figured according to the logic and language of oscillation. Such responses, which mirror the duality of the gift, constitute the double movement of the aporia’s reception, and thereby find a home or ethos in the topography of the creation-gift-aporia. 147


After Thought

An afterthought: To be overcome and to tremble, to be silent and to letbe, to take and to enjoy, and also to gratefully return—such interactions imply a loving relation. If creation is a gift—perhaps co-gifted by a loving God—then, in a word, it should be loved.


What If? 1. John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 338, 59 (henceforth Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida). 2. Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (London: SCM Press, 1993), 84 (henceforth McFague, The Body of God); also refer to Mark I. Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit: Nature, Violence, and the Renewal of Creation (New York: Continuum, 1996), esp. chap. 2 (henceforth Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit). 3. On the necessity of undecidability, risk, and uncertainty in theological discourse, refer to, e.g., Mark Manolopoulos, “When Marion’s Theology Seeks Certainty,” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 4.1 (December 2002), http:www.jcrt.org/archives/ 04.1/manolopoulos.shtml (accessed August 4, 2003). 4. McFague, The Body of God, vii; also refer to The Body of God, 17, 22–25. 5. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 92 (henceforth Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon). 6. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 184. 7. Robyn Horner, Rethinking God as Gift: Marion, Derrida, and the Limits of Phenomenology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001), 247 (henceforth Horner, Rethinking God as Gift). 8. For a statistical overview on the state of the Earth, refer to, e.g., Global Environment Outlook 3: Past, Present and Future Perspectives, eds. Robin Clarke and others (London: Earthscan Publication, 2002), produced by the United Nations Environment Program. 9. Ken Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 149


Notes to Pages 5–7

10. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 6; refer to Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 10 (henceforth Derrida, Given Time) (originally published as Donner le temps. 1, La fausse monnaie [Paris: Galilée, 1991]). I borrow, modify, and rewrite (often by necessity) a number of unusual and even neologistic terms derived from the word “gift” (and other words): “gifting” signifies the act of gift-giving (“giving” is a more general term and does not necessarily refer to gift-giving); “giftness” denotes a thing’s gift-aspect; and so on. Neologisms and modifications are required to reflect and respect the multidimensional, multifarious gift. The gift gives the gift of (more) words. 11. Ken Lokensgard, “The Matter of Responsibility: Derrida and Gifting across Cultures,” para. 26, in Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 4.1 (December 2002), http://www.jcrt.org/archives/04.1/lokensgard.shtml (accessed September 10, 2003). 12. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 4. 13. Refer to Given Time, 30; Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion, “On the Gift: A Discussion between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion, Moderated by Richard Kearney” (henceforth Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift”), in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, ed. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 54–78, 59 (henceforth Caputo and Scanlon, God, the Gift, and Postmodernism). 14. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 6. 15. Derrida, Given Time, 12. 16. Derrida, Given Time, 13. 17. Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Vol. 1, Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1988) (henceforth Bataille, The Accursed Share). 18. Derrida, Given Time, 7. 19. Derrida, Given Time, 7, 24. 20. Derrida, Given Time, 122–23; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from these pages. 21. Refer to Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 4–6. 22. Stephen H. Webb, The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 4 (henceforth Webb, The Gifting God). Note: Webb often utilizes the term “giving”—as well as “gifting”—to refer to gifting. 23. Derrida, Given Time, 9. 24. Refer to Derrida, Given Time, e.g., 7, 24, 26–27, 28, etc. 25. Refer to Derrida, Given Time, 46, 93. 26. Derrida, Given Time, 24. 27. Derrida, Given Time, 42. 28. It is interesting to note that apophasis also (and antithetically) refers to a “sentence, verdict, or decision. . . .” Jacques Derrida, “Sauf le nom (Post-Scriptum),” trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (henceforth Derrida, “Sauf le nom”), in On the Name, trans. David

Notes to Pages 7–12


Wood, John P. Leavey, Jr., and Ian McLeod, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 35–84, 35 (henceforth Derrida, On the Name). 29. Derrida, Given Time, 113, n. 4. I refer to the anthropologist Marcel Mauss in the next chapter. 30. Derrida, Given Time, 15. 31. Derrida, Given Time, 37.

Chapter 1. Creation-Gift-Aporia 1. Oxford English Dictionary Online, http://dictionary.oed.com (accessed August 6, 2003) (henceforth OED). 2. Alice Walker, “Everything is a Human Being,” in Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973–1987 (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), 139–52, 148; cited in Ecofeminism and the Sacred, ed. Carol J. Adams (New York: Continuum, 1993), xii. 3. Refer to, e.g., Richard Routley and Val Routley (now known as Val Plumwood), “Against the Inevitability of Human Chauvinism,” in Ethics and Problems of the 21st Century, ed. Kenneth E. Goodpaster and Kenneth M. Sayre (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1979), 36–59; and Robyn Eckersley, “Beyond Human Racism,” in Environmental Values 7 (1998): 165–82. 4. Freya Mathews, “The Soul of Things,” in Terra Nova: Nature and Culture 1.4 (Fall 1996): 55–64, 56 (henceforth Mathews, “The Soul of Things”); also refer to Charles E. Scott, The Lives of Things (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 34 (henceforth Scott, The Lives of Things). 5. Mathews, “The Soul of Things,” 56. 6. On “deep ecology,” refer to, e.g., Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living As If Nature Mattered (Salt Lake City, UT: Peregrine Books, 1985); on “social ecology,” refer to, e.g., Murray Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism, 2nd ed. (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1995). 7. Scott’s The Lives of Things cites Italo Calvino’s radically inclusive Six Memos for the Next Millenium, trans. Patrick Creagh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 124; Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2000), 228. 8. The Greek dorodokeo means “to accept as a present, to take as a bribe.” Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon, 187. Also refer to Émile Benveniste, “Gift and Exchange in the Indo-European Vocabulary,” in The Logic of the Gift: Toward an Ethic of Generosity, ed. Alan D. Schrift (New York: Routledge, 1997), 33–42. 9. On the physical sciences’ contribution to the thinking of relationality and interdependency, refer to, e.g., Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992), esp. 38–58, 248


Notes to Pages 12–18

(henceforth Ruether, Gaia and God). (Most of the ecotheological texts referred to in the present work engage with post-Newtonian scientific discourse.) 10. Webb, The Gifting God, 105. 11. Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London: Routledge, 2003), 5 (henceforth Keller, Face of the Deep). 12. Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon, 568, 117. 13. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1985), xiv (henceforth Moltmann, God in Creation). 14. Kenneth L. Schmitz, The Gift: Creation (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1982), 20 (henceforth Schmitz, The Gift). The author refers to Lactantius’s Divine Institutes, Book II, Chap. 9. Lactantius writes about creation, but does not conceive it in terms of gift. 15. Schmitz, The Gift, 69. 16. McFague, The Body of God, 145. 17. Jay B. McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals: Developing an Ecological Spirituality (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1990), 145 (henceforth McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals). 18. Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 5 (henceforth Taylor, Erring). Also refer to Wallace, who recalls a biblical instance of un/belief (Mk 9.24); Fragments of the Spirit, 16. 19. On the stereotypes identified with the notion of “Creator,” refer to, e.g., Keller, Face of the Deep, 6, McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 138. A definitive study of “creation from nothing” is Gerhard May’s Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of “Creation Out of Nothing” in Early Christian Thought, trans. A. S. Worrall (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1994). 20. McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 98. 21. Moltmann, God in Creation, 73; also refer to Marion, God without Being, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 105 (henceforth Marion, God without Being) (originally published as Dieu sans l’être. Hors-texte [Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1982]). 22. Keller, Face of the Deep, 46. Keller also recognizes the ecoworthy dimension to ex nihilo (for all matter would come from God, and would therefore be good); she therefore advises that the ecologically bivalent character of creation-from-nothing “would mean learning to distinguish the matter-affirming intention of the ex nihilo from its own matter-nihilating dualism.” Face of the Deep, 50. Also refer to David Ray Griffin, “Creation out of Nothing, Creation out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil,” in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, ed. Stephen T. Davis, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 2001), 108–44. 23. Schmitz, The Gift, 66. Earlier in his book, Schmitz concedes that creation ex nihilo cannot be anchored in Genesis; The Gift, 15, 16.

Notes to Pages 18–19


24. I apply the following practice when dealing with exclusive language: I note it on each occasion it appears in a new section or subsection, by citing “sic” in square brackets, but this notation does not occur constantly. (The same applies for the notes.) Highlighting sexist script is imperative: exclusivist grammar symbolizes and re-presents the violence of conceptual and political exclusion. However, the process of periodically underlining this objectionable language aims at recognizing and exposing this violence without becoming unduly repetitive. 25. On the notion of God as an overlord, refer to, e.g., McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 138. 26. Also refer to, e.g., Psalm 8.6–8. 27. Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (London: Routledge, 2002), 141. On the crucial features of this deficient rationale, also refer to Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993), 41f (henceforth Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature). 28. A pioneering (but not unproblematic) work in this respect is Lynn White’s “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” in Science 155 (1967): 1203–07; also refer to, e.g., McFague, Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature (London: SCM Press, 1997), 7 (henceforth McFague, Super, Natural Christians). 29. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, “First Week: Principle and Foundation,” http://www.ccel.org/i/ignatius/exercises/cache/exercises.pdf (accessed August 7, 2003). Throughout this investigation, I often utilize the excellent and extensive resources of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Web site, dir. Harry Plantinga, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, www.ccel.org (henceforth CCEL), as well as other Web sites. Editorial information is provided whenever available. Since many of the translations are archaic, I occasionally modify some passages (e.g., from “saith” to “say”). The Web sites do not provide page numbers, but other reference markers are supplied. I also cite the texts’ Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) and the most recent access dates. All emphases located in citations from Web sites are added. 30. Matthew Fox, Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation (New York: Doubleday, 1980), 4 (henceforth Fox, Breakthrough). 31. Refer to H. Paul Santmire’s The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985). For an incisive ecofeminist critique of Christianity and its involvement in patriarchal domination, refer to Ruether, Gaia and God; also refer to her powerful summary critique, “Ecofeminism: The Challenge to Theology,” in Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans, ed. Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000) (henceforth Hessel and Ruether, Christianity and Ecology), 97–112. 32. Refer to Carolyn Merchant’s important work, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).


Notes to Pages 20–24

33. Bruce V. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth: Heidegger, Environmental Ethics, and the Metaphysics of Nature (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1995), 64 (henceforth Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth). 34. Refer to, e.g., Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. I also thank Gary Deverell for reminding me of Hellenistic philosophy’s precedence. 35. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, 151, 212–13, n. 7. 36. Refer to, e.g., Marion, God without Being, 139–60; and Louis Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, trans. Patrick Madigan and Madeleine M. Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995). 37. McFague, The Body of God, 184. Refer to McFague’s discussion on the “utilitarian” aspect of Christian sacramentalism; The Body of God, 183f. 38. Refer to David Albertson’s excellent article, “On ‘The Gift’ in Tanner’s Theology: A Patristic Parable,” Modern Theology 21.1 (January 2005): 107–18. Albertson draws on Maximus the Confessor (580–682 CE) and his thoughts on “daily bread” to mediate John Milbank’s emphasis on economy (Milbank is discussed below) and Kathryn Tanner’s focus on excess. Still, we aporeticians find “patristic” theology exceedingly presumptuous theologically. Refer to Milbank, “Can a Gift Be Given? Prolegomena to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysic,” in Rethinking Metaphysics, ed. L. Gregory Jones and Stephen E. Fowl (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 119–61 (henceforth Milbank, “Can a Gift Be Given?”); Kathryn Tanner, “Economies of Grace,” in Having: Property and Possession in Religious and Social Life, ed. William Schweiker and Charles Mathewes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 353–82. 39. Stephen J. Duffy, The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 79 (henceforth Duffy, The Graced Horizon). Also refer to Duffy, The Graced Horizon, 116–17, 165. 40. J. Pohle, “Grace,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1999 online edition, reproduced on the New Advent Web site, dir. Kevin Knight, New Advent Catholic Supersite, Lakewood, Colorado (henceforth New Advent) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/ 06701a.htm (accessed September 5, 2003). 41. John Tauler, “The Efficacy of Divine Grace,” in Light, Life, and Love: Selections from the German Mystics of the Middle Ages, ed. W. R. Inge, on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/ i/inge/light/light.rtf (accessed August 31, 2003). 42. Samuel Rutherford, A Selection from his Letters, “Letter Ten,” on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/r/ru therford/letters/letters.txt (accessed August 31, 2003). 43. Stephen J. Duffy, The Graced Horizon, 79. 44. Refer to, e.g., the work of the process theologian of grace, Eulalio Baltazar. Duffy refers to Baltazar’s Teilhard and the Supernatural (Baltimore: Helicon, 1966) in The Graced Horizon. But even Baltazar displays an anthropocentric bias; refer to Duffy, The Graced Horizon, 182. 45. Duffy, The Graced Horizon, 55.

Notes to Pages 25–35


46. Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997) and States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991). 47. Ruether, Gaia and God, 240–53. 48. Moltmann, God in Creation, 12. 49. Refer to, e.g., McFague, The Body of God, 149–50; Keller, Face of the Deep, 23; Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 143–44; McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 50–51. 50. McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 99. 51. On McDaniel’s biocentrism, refer to Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 27, 44, etc.; on his egalitarianism, refer to Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 92. 52. McFague, The Body of God, 106, 114. 53. Derrida, Given Time, 54. 54. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 160. Also refer to Horner’s thorough elucidation, whereby she writes this gift as “Gift” to differentiate it from “actual” gifts; Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, chap. 7. 55. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 168. Marion also offers two paths to thinking gifting. On the one hand, there is a “giving . . . with neither giver nor given . . . a pure giving;” on the other, giving “is accomplished by the giver.” Marion, God without Being, 104. While Marion may be more interested in the former, I am more interested in the given as well as any possible giver(s).

Chapter 2. A Brief History of Gifts 1. Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 390. 2. Derrida, Given Time, 137. 3. The New International Version of the Bible (henceforth NIV), on the Bible Gateway Web site, Gospel Communications International, U.S.A. (henceforth BiG), http://www.biblegateway.com/cgibin/bible?language=englishandversion=NIVandpassage =Heb+8.4 (accesed August 4, 2003). All biblical emphases are added. 4. The New Revised Standard Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1993) (henceforth NRSV). Unless otherwise stated, I utilize the NRSV. 5. Selbie confirms that the conditional gift continues to prevail in Eastern cultures: “So firmly established is the custom in the East of giving a present upon certain conditions that the latter is demanded as a right.” J. A. Selbie, “Gift,” in Dictionary of the Bible, ed. J. Hastings (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1958) 172–73, 173. Of course, this prevalence is not presumed here to be an exclusively “Eastern” phenomenon. 6. Simon Jarvis notes that the original Greek and Latin word translated in this verse as “lend” more accurately corresponds to the verb form of “gift” (dapizete, date);


Notes to Pages 35–38

Jarvis, “Problems in the Phenomenology of the Gift,” Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 6.2 (August 2001): 67–77, 74. It is interesting to note, from a Derrideanaporetic perspective, that this word has been translated in two distinctly diverging ways: “lend” and “gift.” 7. Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2002), 46. (I cite the NRSV, while Brueggemann quotes from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible—the two renderings are similar.) 8. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 45, § 3, trans. George Prevost, rev. M. B. Riddle (henceforth Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew) in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-10/npnf1-10-51.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 9. Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel According to St John, Homily 51, in PNF, on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-14/npnf1-14-55.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 10. Thomas Bunyan, A Treatise of the Fear of God, ed. George Offer (London: N. Ponder, 1679), chap. 6, in Acacia John Bunyan Online Library http://acacia.pair.com/ Acacia.John.Bunyan/Sermons.Allegories/Treatise.Fear.God/6.html (accessed August 1, 2003). 11. Andrew Murray, The Deeper Christian Life: An Aid to Its Attainment, “Consecration,” § 3 (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1895) (henceforth Murray, The Deeper Christian Life), on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/m/murray/deeper/deeper_life08 .htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 12. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chap. 18, para. 1, (henceforth Irenaeus, Against Heresies), in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, rev. A. Cleveland Coxe (Edinburgh/Grand Rapids: T. and T. Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, no date) (henceforth ANF), on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/fathers/ANF-01/iren/iren4.html (accessed August 1, 2003); also refer to Against Heresies, Book IV, chap. 18, para. 6. 13. Tatian, Address of Tatian to the Greeks, chap. 4, trans J. E. Ryland, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/anf02-37.htm#P1114_299739 (accessed August 1, 2003). 14. Minucius Felix, The Octavius of Minucius Felix, chap. 32, ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers/ANF-04/Origen/9/t36.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 15. Arnobius, The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen, Book VII, par. 8, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-06/anf06-140.htm#P8283_ 2607320 (accessed August 1, 2003). 16. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 8, § 1, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-10/npnf1-10-14.htm August 1, 2003. 17. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chap. 13, para. 3, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-62.htm (accessed August 1, 2003).

Notes to Pages 38–42


18. Pastor of Hermas, Book II.2, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ ANF-02/anf02-12.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 19. Tertullian, To the Heathen, Book II, chap. 13, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www .ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-16.htm#P1584_589379 (accessed August 1, 2003). 20. Tertullian, The Apology, chap. 39, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/ fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-05.htm#P253_53158 (accessed August 1, 2003); also refer to The Five Books against Marcion, Book IV, chap. 9 (henceforth Tertullian, The Five Books against Marcion), on NA, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/03124.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 21. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.I.68 (“Of the Gifts”), Benziger Bros. ed. (1947) (henceforth Aquinas, Suma Theologica), on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/a/ aquinas/summa/FS/FS068.html (accessed August 1, 2003). 22. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, An Annotated Translation (with some Abridgement) of the Summa Contra Gentiles, ed. Joseph Rickaby (London: Burns and Oates, 1905), Book I, § 93, on the Jacques Maritain Center Web site, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/gc1_93.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 23. Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Mothe Guyon, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer, chap. 6, on CCEL http://www.ccel,.org/g/guyon/prayer/prayer.rtf (accessed August 1, 2003). 24. Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls (London: Routledge, 1990). On the significance of Mauss’s work, refer to, e.g., Alan D. Schrift, “Logics of the Gift in Cixous and Nietzsche: Can We Still be Generous?” in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 6.2 (August 2001): 113–23, 113–14. 25. Schmitz, The Gift, 33. 26. Schmitz, The Gift, 44. 27. Schmitz, The Gift, 45. 28. Schmitz, The Gift, 45–46; emphasis added. 29. Schmitz, The Gift, 51. 30. Schmitz, The Gift, 52. 31. Schmitz, The Gift, 46. 32. Schmitz, The Gift, 48–50. 33. Schmitz, The Gift, 50. 34. Schmitz, The Gift, 48. 35. Schmitz. The Gift, 64; emphasis added. 36. Schmitz, The Gift, 65. 37. Schmitz, The Gift, 96–97. 38. Schmitz, The Gift, 45. 39. Schmitz, The Gift, 47.


Notes to Pages 42–47

40. Schmitz, The Gift, 47. 41. Refer to, e.g., Marion’s essays: “The Final Appeal of the Subject,” in Deconstructive Subjectivities, ed. Simon Critchley and Peter Dews (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), 85–104, and “L’Interloqué,” in Who Comes After the Subject?, ed. Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy (New York: Routledge, 1991), 236–45. 42. Schmitz, The Gift, 47–48. 43. Schmitz, The Gift, 63. 44. Schmitz, The Gift, 8f. The author defines creation myths in the following way: “Cosmogonic myths are neither adventurous science nor unbridled fiction. . . . [T]hey are meant to communicate the original and ultimate meaning of things. . . .” The Gift, 2. 45. Schmitz, The Gift, 12–13. 46. Schmitz, The Gift, 14. 47. Fifth canon; cited from The Church Teaches, ed. Jesuit Fathers of St. Mary’s College, Kansas (St. Louis: Herder, 1955), 152–53; cited in Schmitz, The Gift, 14. 48. Schmitz, The Gift, 16; second emphasis added. 49. Schmitz, The Gift, 18; emphasis added. 50. Schmitz, The Gift, 19. 51. Schmitz, The Gift, 32–33. 52. Webb, The Gifting God, 9. Whenever Webb utilizes the term “giving,” it typically refers to gifting. 53. Webb, The Gifting God, 15. 54. Webb, The Gifting God, 46. 55. Refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First and Second Series, intro. Douglas Crase (New York: Vintage Books, 1990); Friedrich Nietzsche, esp. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1966) (henceforth Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra); and, Bataille, The Accursed Share. For secondary texts on Nietzsche, refer to Gary Shapiro, Alcyone: Nietzsche on Gifts, Noise, and Women (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991) (henceforth Shapiro, Alcyone); also refer to Rosalyn Diprose, Corporeal Generosity: On Giving with Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002); on Bataille, refer to Carl Raschke’s excellent essay, “Bataille’s Gift,” in the Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory 5.1 (December 2003), http://www.jcrt.org/archives/05.1/index .html (accessed January 29, 2004). 56. Webb, The Gifting God, 56. 57. Webb, The Gifting God, 59. 58. Webb, The Gifting God, 62. 59. Webb, The Gifting God, 62. 60. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, § 22 (“On the Gift-Giving Virtue”), 74. 61. Webb, The Gifting God, 58.

Notes to Pages 47–55


62. Webb, The Gifting God, 61; also refer to Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 60. 63. Webb, The Gifting God, 64. 64. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1978 Penguin ed.) 264; cited in Webb, The Gifting God, 65. 65. Webb, The Gifting God, 49; also refer to The Gifting God, 46. 66. Webb, The Gifting God, 51; also refer to The Gifting God, 93. 67. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 17–18. 68. Webb, The Gifting God, 52. 69. Webb, The Gifting God, 88. 70. Webb, The Gifting God, 139. 71. Webb, The Gifting God, 140. 72. Webb, The Gifting God, 9. 73. Webb, The Gifting God, 46. 74. Webb, The Gifting God, 5, 147. 75. Webb, The Gifting God, 87. 76. Webb, The Gifting God, 140, 141. 77. Webb, The Gifting God, 127. 78. Webb, The Gifting God, 143. 79. Webb, The Gifting God, 144. 80. Webb, The Gifting God, 93; emphasis added. 81. Webb, The Gifting God, 90. 82. Webb, The Gifting God, 93. 83. Webb, The Gifting God, 153. 84. Webb, The Gifting God, 153; emphasis added. 85. Webb, The Gifting God, 155. 86. Webb, The Gifting God, 11. 87. Webb, The Gifting God, 141. 88. Webb, The Gifting God, 138. 89. Webb, The Gifting God, 139. 90. Webb, The Gifting God, 133. 91. Webb, The Gifting God, 129. The question/ing of metaphysics is articulated as I proceed, for the question of the gift is also a question about metaphysics (and viceversa). 92. The Idol and Distance: Five Studies, trans. and intro. Thomas A. Carlson (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001), 199 (henceforth Marion, The Idol and Distance). 93. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 104. 94. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 113. 95. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 215. 96. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 166.


Notes to Pages 55–63

97. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 109; emphasis added. 98. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 180. 99. Marion, God without Being, 45. 100. Marion, God without Being, 97–98. 101. Marion; God without Being, 97; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 102. Marion, God without Being, 97–98. It is important to recognize the fact that the word “annulment” does not necessarily or primarily mean “destruction” but rather revocation or suspension; God without Being, 218, n. 74; also refer to God without Being, 89, 95. This nuance also finds itself in the Derridean treatment of the gift. 103. Taylor, Erring, 159. 104. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 17. 105. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 247. 106. Marion, God without Being; 98; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 107. Derrida, Given Time, 35. 108. Refer to Horner’s commentary on this intriguing passage—intriguing precisely because Derrida refers to a “first mover”; Rethinking God as Gift, 189–90. 109. Derrida, Given Time, 35; also refer to Derrida’s comments in Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 73. 110. Webb, The Gifting God, 132. 111. Marion, God without Being, 84–85. 112. Webb, The Gifting God, 133. 113. Webb, The Gifting God, 131–32. 114. Webb, The Gifting God, 133. 115. Webb, The Gifting God, 184, n. 18; Webb refers to Marion, God without Being, 107. 116. Webb, The Gifting God, 133; also refer to The Gifting God, 76.

Chapter 3. Unwrapping Marion’s Gift 1. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 56. Refer to Reduction and Givenness: Investigations of Husserl, Heidegger, and Phenomenology, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998); Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), (henceforth Marion, Being Given) (originally published as Étant donné: Essai d’une phenomenology de la donation (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997). Also refer to the third of this triptych, In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena. trans. Robyn Horner

Notes to Pages 63–67


and Vincent Berraud (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002). Since Marion treats the question of the gift in Book II of Being Given, I focus on that text, which is based on the essay “Sketch of a Phenomenological Concept of the Gift,” trans. John Conley and Danielle Poe, Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought, ed. Merold Westphal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 122–43 (henceforth Marion, “Sketch of a Phenomenological Concept of Gift”). 2. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book V, chap. 15/16, in PNF, on CCEL, http:// www.ccel.org/s/schaff/npnf103/htm/iv.i.vii.xv.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 3. Schmitz, The Gift, 34. 4. Schmitz, The Gift, 35; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 5. In a note, Schmitz refers to OED definitions of “given,” “givenness,” “grant,” “datum,” “fact,” and “factum.” Schmitz, The Gift, 136, n. 54. Schmitz defines givenness as “the characterization of the evidence as given.” The Gift, 38. 6. Schmitz, The Gift, 37. 7. Schmitz, The Gift, 38. 8. Schmitz, The Gift, 41. 9. Marion, Being Given, 5. 10. Marion, Being Given, 39. 11. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 119. 12. Marion Being Given, 7. 13. Marion, Being Given, 48, 49. 14. Marion, Being Given, 47, 49. 15. Marion, Being Given, 49. 16. The statement appears in Emile Bernard and others, Conversations avec Cézanne, ed. P. M. Dorian (Paris: Collection Macula, 1978), 107; cited in Marion, Being Given, 50. 17. Marion, Being Given, 158, 162. 18. Marion, Being Given, 195. 19. Marion, Being Given, 74. 20. Marion, “Sketch of a Phenomenological Concept of Gift,” 131. 21. Marion, Being Given, 75. 22. Marion, Being Given, 84; “Sketch of a Phenomenological Concept of Gift,” 131. 23. Marion, Being Given, 74f. 24. Marion, Being Given, 86. 25. Marion, Being Given, 86. 26. Marion, Being Given, 87. 27. Marion, Being Given, 96.


Notes to Pages 68–73

28. Marion, Being Given, 99. 29. Marion, Being Given, 100–01. He repeatedly recalls and destabilizes this catch-cry of hyperindividualism; refer to Being Given, 91, 101, 108, 115. 30. The exchange took place at a conference entitled “Religion and Postmodernism,” which provided the impetus and the majority of the material in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism. 31. Caputo in Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 77. 32. Søren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard’s Works, Vol. 6, “Fear and Trembling” and “Repetition,” trans. and ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). 33. Refer to The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 357, n. 20; Against Ethics: Contributions to a Poetics of Obligation with Constant Reference to Deconstruction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993) (henceforth Caputo, Against Ethics); and, Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995) (henceforth Derrida, The Gift of Death) (originally published as “Donner la mort,” in L’éthique du don, Jacques Derrida et la pensée du don, ed. Jean-Michel Rabaté and Michael Wetzel [Paris: Transition, 1992]). 34. Refer to Caputo, Against Ethics, e.g., 66–68. 35. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 188. 36. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 220. 37. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 206. 38. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 211. 39. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 216. 40. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 217. 41. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, § 21, 92, in On The Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) (henceforth Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals). 42. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 222f. The possibility of forgiveness is also pursued in Against Ethics, esp. 110f. 43. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 226–27. 44. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 226. 45. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 227. 46. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 227. I will return to the issue of Caputo’s restraint in due course. 47. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 227–28. 48. Alenka Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003) (henceforth Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow). 49. Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow, 55; Nietzsche states: “This self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it has given itself—mercy; it goes without say-

Notes to Pages 73–80


ing that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or better, his—beyond the law.” On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, § 10, 73. 50. Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow, 55; Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, § 10, 72. 51. Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow, 55–56; refer to Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, § 10, 72–73. 52. Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow, 56; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 53. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 227. 54. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, § 3, 61. 55. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, § 11, 39. 56. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Wise,” § 2, 225. 57. Nietzsche, Unfashionable Observations, trans. Richard T. Gray (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 89. 58. Zupancˇicˇ, The Shortest Shadow, 59. 59. “Apostles of the Impossible: On God and the Gift in Derrida and Marion,” in Caputo and Scanlon, God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, 185–222 (henceforth Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible”). 60. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 212; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 61. The phrase “indebting givenness” appears in Marion, “Sketch of a Phenomenological Concept of Gift,” 142. (Caputo references the French version of the essay “Esquisse d’un concept phénomenologique du don,” in Filososophia della revelatione 72 [1994]: 75–94) 62. The accompanying note highlights Marion’s restricted definition of “economy”: “In the debate over the gift, ‘economy’ is narrowed down to mean only a causalobjectivistic relation.” Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 222–23, n. 34. 63. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 213. 64. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 214; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 65. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 214–15. 66. Marion, Being Given, 349, n. 54. 67. Marion, Being Given, 95. 68. Marion, Being Given, 37. 69. Marion, Being Given, 95. 70. Marion, Being Given, 346–47, n. 38. 71. Marion, Being Given, 98. 72. Marion, Being Given, 101. 73. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 201.


Notes to Pages 81–86

74. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 214. 75. Marion, Being Given, 104. 76. Marion, Being Given, 104–05. 77. Marion, Being Given, 105. 78. Marion, Being Given, 106. 79. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 170. 80. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 136. 81. Refer to Derrida, Given Time, e.g., 11, 24, 107. 82. On the equivalence: (1) Between the given and the gift, refer to Being Given, 61–62, 67, 70, 252; (2) between givenness and the gift, Being Given, 76, 84, 100; and, (3) between giving and gifting, Being Given, 246. 83. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 138. 84. Thomas A. Carlson, “Translator’s Introduction,” in Marion, The Idol and Distance, xi–xxxix, xii (twice), xxvi (henceforth Carlson, “Translator’s Introduction”). 85. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 61; emphasis added. 86. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 71. 87. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 58. 88. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 59. 89. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 66. 90. Marion, The Idol and Distance, 166. 91. Carlson, “Translator’s Introduction,” xxvii, n. 22. 92. Marion, “On the Gift,” 56. 93. Marion and Derrida, “On the Gift,” 61. 94. “On the Gift,” 56; also refer to “On the Gift,” 64, 68, 73. 95. Jacques Derrida, Circumfession: Fifty-nine Periods and Periphrases, in Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida’s Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 155. An interesting aside: Note the utilization of the phrase “to pass for.” The OED states that “to pass for/as” means “to be accepted as equivalent to; to be taken for; to be accepted, received, or held in repute as. Often with the implication of being something else” (emphasis added). Doesn’t this indicate the possibility that, while Derrida declares he is an atheist, he may (also) be otherwise? Maybe he feigns atheism? Even if Derrida may not be a believer in any conventional sense, his refusal of religion may also be interpreted as a confession of undecidability. And, in an aporetics that cherishes possibility, we honor those who promote the undecidable and appreciate those moments in which they (decide to) remain undecided. 96. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 57. 97. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 247. 98. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 218. 99. Carlson, “Translator’s Introduction,” xii.

Notes to Pages 89–116


Chapter 4. Oscillation 1. Marion, Being Given, 74f. 2. Marion, Being Given, 81; emphasis added. 3. Marion, Being Given, 84. 4. Marion, Being Given, 348, n. 46; emphasis added. 5. Marion, Being Given, 251. 6. Marion, Being Given, 79, 81; emphases added. 7. Marion, Being Given, 80; emphases added. 8. Marion, Being Given, 86. 9. Marion, Being Given, 129. 10. Marion, Being Given, 108; also refer to Being Given, 112. 11. Marion, Being Given, 288. 12. Marion, Being Given, 170. 13. Marion, Being Given, 188, 245; also refer to Being Given, 91, 102. 14. On “pure loss,” refer to, e.g., Being Given, 79, 86, 89, 93. 15. Marion, Being Given, 249; emphasis added. 16. Marion, Being Given, 101; emphasis added. 17. Marion, Being Given, 321; emphasis added. 18. Webb, The Gifting God, 159, n. 2. 19. Webb, The Gifting God, 31, 54. 20. Webb, The Gifting God, 31. 21. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 184. 22. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 227; emphases added. 23. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 218; second emphasis added. 24. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 221. Caputo cites Derrida’s “Passions: ‘An Oblique Offering’,” trans. David Wood, in Derrida, On the Name, 3–31, 133, n. 3. 25. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 212, 213; emphases added except “credere.” 26. Caputo, Against Ethics, 53 (also refer to chap. 6, titled “Almost Perfect Fools”); Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 225. 27. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 213. The phrase is coined by Angelus Silesius (a.k.a Johann Scheffler, 1624–1677) in The Cherubinic Wanderer, Book I: 289, trans. Maria Shrady (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 54 (henceforth Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer) and recalled by Heidegger in “Lecture Five” of The Principle of Reason, trans. Reginald Lilly (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 32–40, 35f. Caputo discusses the rose, Silesius, Eckhart, and Heidegger in The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought (Athens, OH: University of Ohio Press, 1978) (henceforth Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought), chap. 3.


Notes to Pages 116–08

28. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 220, n. 29. 29. Derrida, Given Time, 7; second emphasis added. 30. Derrida, Given Time, 9. 31. Derrida, Given Time, 123. 32. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 59. 33. Derrida, The Gift of Death, 112; emphases added. 34. Merold Westphal, “Appropriating Postmodernism,” in Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought, ed. Merold Westphal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 1–10, 7. 35. Marion Grau, “Erasing Economy: Derrida and the Construction of Divine Economies,” in CrossCurrents 52.3 (Fall 2002): 360–70, 361 (henceforth Grau, “Erasing ‘Economy’”). 36. Grau, “Erasing ‘Economy’,” 362; Arkady Plotnitsky, Reconfigurations: Critical Theory and General Economics (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1993), 14–23. 37. Grau, “Erasing ‘Economy’,” 363. 38. Grau, “Erasing ‘Economy’,” 365. 39. Derrida and Marion, “On the Gift,” 67; emphasis added. 40. Merold Westphal, “Positive Postmodernism as Radical Hermeneutics,” in The Very Idea of Radical Hermeneutics, ed. Roy Martinez (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1997), 48–63, 55. 41. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 200; emphasis added.

Chapter 5. Toward an Oscillational Eco-Ethos 1. Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon, 303. 2. Refer to Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, 170f; also refer to Ruether, Gaia and God, 225. 3. When it comes to excess and ethics, Webb rightly offers the question: “Does excess have an ethics?” He also recognizes that “excess, after all, is not easily moralized.” Webb, The Gifting God, 84; “Nature’s Spendthrift Economy: The Extravagance of God in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” in Soundings (Fall/Winter 1994): 429–51, 433 (henceforth Webb, “Nature’s Spendthrift Economy”). 4. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, 169; the cited passage forms part of Foltz’s excellent exposition of Heidegger’s retrieval of êthos; Inhabiting the Earth, 166–76. 5. McFague, The Body of God, 11, 202; also refer to McFague, Super, Natural Christians, 1–2, 4–7. On the question of sociopolitical transformation, refer to, e.g., Ruether, Gaia and God, chap. 10.

Notes to Pages 108–16


6. Schmitz, The Gift, 33. 7. Marion, Being Given, 159. 8. Marion, Being Given, 151, 159; also refer to Being Given, 202, 283. 9. Marion, Being Given, 122. 10. Marion, Being Given, 127–28. 11. Eckhart, “Sermon Seven,” in Fox, Breakthrough, 116. 12. Webb, The Gifting God, 171, n. 5. 13. Pseudo-Dionysius, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 50. No doubt, hesychia finds its expression in otherthan-Christian spiritualities; refer to, e.g., Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East, ed. James S. Cutsinger (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2002). 14. Refer to Marion, God without Being, 53–60. 15. Refer to, e.g., Merton and Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart, ed. Jonathan Montaldo (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2002); and, When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature by Thomas Merton, ed. Kathleen Deignan (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2003). 16. Webb, The Gifting God, 68, 78. 17. Webb, The Gifting God, 49; the synonyms for “extravagant” and “superfluous” appear in The Gifting God, 48. On the question of the extravagant, Webb explains: “Extravagant originally meant that which wanders out of bounds, straying, roaming, erring. It is prodigal, indeterminate, and rootless because (like the son in the famous parable) it is not bound by the transactional structure of giving, receiving, and returning.” The Gifting God, 48. 18. Joseph Sittler, “The Sittler Speeches,” in Center for the Study of Campus Ministry Yearbook 1977–78, ed. Phil Schroeder (Valparaiso, IN: Valparaiso University Press, 1978), 8–61, 32 (henceforth Sittler, “The Sittler Speeches”). 19. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, 127. 20. Marion, “In the Name,” 34, 37. 21. Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible,” 194. 22. John of Ruysbroeck, Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Book II, chap. 37. on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/r/ruysbroeck/adornment/htm/iv.ii.xxxvii.htm (accessed August 18, 2003). 23. Scott powerfully figures the relation between astonishment and “facts” in the first chapter of The Lives of Things. 24. Keller, Face of the Deep, 82. 25. McFague, The Body of God, 70–72. 26. McFague, The Body of God, 123. 27. Mark I. Wallace, “The Wounded Spirit as the Basis for Hope in an Age of Radical Ecology,” in Hessel and Ruether, Christianity and Ecology, 51–72, 52. 28. Webb, The Gifting God, 130.


Notes to Pages 117–25

29. Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, Vol. 2, Faith and Reality (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1951), 31; cited in Schmitz, The Gift, 137, n. 63. 30. Fox, Breakthrough, 221. 31. John D. Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought, 119; cited in Fox, Breakthrough, 223. Refer to the sections devoted to Gelassenheit in The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought, 118–27, 173–83. Schmitz, Marion, and Webb also allude to letting-be; refer to Schmitz, The Gift, 48; Marion, Being Given, 282, The Idol and Distance, 235; Webb, “Nature’s Spendthrift Economy,” 443, The Gifting God, 6. 32. Eckhart, Die deutschen Werke, ed. and trans. Josef Quint, Vol. 3, Predigten 60–86 (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1976), 514; cited in Fox, Breakthrough, 224. 33. Fox, Breakthrough, 225–26. 34. McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 66; also refer to Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 126–27; Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 165. 35. Max Oelschlaeger, Caring for Creation: An Ecumenical Approach to the Environmental Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 3. 36. Refer to Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. and intro. William Lovitt (New York: Garland Publishing, 1977), 10f (henceforth Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”). 37. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 14. 38. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 16. 39. Marion, Being Given, 223–24. 40. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, 20, n. 40; emphasis added. 41. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 17. 42. Freya Mathews, “Letting the World Grow Old: An Ethos of Countermodernity,” in Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion 3.2 (August 1999): 119–37, (henceforth Mathews, “Letting the World Grow Old”). 43. Keller, Face of the Deep, 80; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 44. Webb, The Gifting God, 95. 45. Ruether, Gaia and God, 109; refer to the section on “Militarism and War” in Gaia and God, 102–11. 46. Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 164. 47. Mathews, “Letting the World Grow Old,” 124; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are quoted from this page. 48. McFague, The Body of God, 6. 49. McFague, The Body of God, 113. 50. McFague, The Body of God, 7. 51. Reiner Schürmann, Meister Eckhart: Mystic and Philosopher (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1978), 16; cited in Fox, Breakthrough, 224.

Notes to Pages 126–31


52. Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr., The Liberation of Life (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 245; cited in McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 21. 53. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, 161; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 54. Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. and intro. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 145–61, 150. 55. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, 165; emphasis added. 56. The Hebrew term for “till,” âbad, may be more accurately translated as “serve” —which refigures the verse as radically ecological (i.e., to serve the garden/earth). However, I bracket the question of “precise” translation for the sake of illuminating the notion of eco-oscillation. Ecotheologians like Sittler and Moltmann attend to this ecoaffirmative biblical verse; Sittler, “The Sittler Speeches,” 37–38; Moltmann, God in Creation, 30. 57. Augustine, Letter 220, § 10, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF101/npnf1-01-23.htm#P6197_2900574 (accessed August 1, 2003). 58. Leo the Great, “Sermon Ten” (“On the Collections”), Part Five, § 1, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-12/Npnf2-12–177.htm#P2817_653792 (accessed August 1, 2003). 59. McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 101. 60. McDaniel, Earth, Sky Gods and Mortals, 101. 61. Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 159. 62. Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 159–61. 63. Wallace, Fragments of the Spirit, 167. 64. Russell Belk, “The Perfect Gift,” in Gift-Giving: A Research Anthology, ed. Cele Otnes and Richard F. Beltramini (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996), 59–84, 61. 65. McFague, The Body of God, 122. 66. Fox, Breakthrough, 206; also refer to Breakthrough, 203f. 67. Taylor, Erring, 158–60. Interestingly, Taylor makes the following claim a few pages later, which resonates with an oscillational logic: “Erring necessarily involves a double movement of resignation and acceptance. . . .” Erring, 166. 68. Webb, The Gifting God, 137–38. Refer to Horace Bushnell, Work and Play (New York: Charles Scribner, 1881). 69. Webb, The Gifting God, 66; refer to Norman O. Brown, Life against Death (New York: Vintage, 1959). 70. Derrida, Given Time, 103, 107. 71. Derrida, Given Time, 113. 72. Derrida, Given Time, 146. 73. Peter Quigley, “Rethinking Resistance,” in Postmodern Environmental Ethics, ed. Max Oelschlaeger (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 173–92, 186.


Notes to Pages 131–34

74. Kate Soper, What Is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 270 (henceforth Soper, What Is Nature?). 75. Soper, What Is Nature?, 269; until stated otherwise, subsequent citations are drawn from this page. 76. Keller, Face of the Deep, 195. 77. Psalm 104.26: “There [the sea] go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” 78. Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer, Book II: 198; cited in Derrida, Sauf le nom, 75. 79. Moltmann, God in Creation, 6. 80. Carol A. Newson, “Job,” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, ed. Carol A. Newson and Sharon H. Ringe (London: SPCK, 1992), 138–44, 136; cited in Keller, Face of the Deep, 140; also refer to Face of the Deep, chap. 7. 81. Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch, chap. 1, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-30.htm#P2787_452241 (accessed August 1, 2003). 82. Tertullian, The Five Books against Marcion, Book III, chap. 25, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-30.htm#P4763_1515567 (accessed August 1, 2003). 83. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 36, para. 6, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www .ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-08/npnf1-08-43.htm (accessed August 1, 2003); also refer to Exposition on Psalm 37, para. 10, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF108/npnf1-08-44.htm#P994_469164 (accessed August 1, 2003). Augustine’s City of God also refers to enjoyment of corporeal gifts; refer to City of God, Book XVIIII, chap. 10, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers/NPNF1-02/Augustine/cog/t107.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 84. Chrysostom, Homilies on the First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy, Homily 18, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-13/npnf1-13-99.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). 85. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.38.1 (“Of the Name of the Holy Ghost, as Gift”), on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP/FP038.html (accessed August 1, 2003). 86. Traherne, Centuries of Meditations, “The First Century,” para. 92, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/traherne/centuries.all.html (accessed August 1, 2003). 87. Murray, The Deeper Christian Life, “Consecration,” § 4, on CCEL, http:// www.ccel.org/m/murray/deeper/deeper_life08.htm (accessed August 8, 2003). 88. Moltmann, God in Creation, 285; also refer to Moltmann on play, God in Creation, 310–12. 89. McDaniel, Earth, Sky, Gods and Mortals, 104. 90. Sittler, “The Sittler Speeches,” 21.

Notes to Pages 135–41


91. Fox, Breakthrough, 225; Fox does not provide reference details for this quotation. 92. Webb, The Gifting God, 151. 93. Schmitz, The Gift, 81. 94. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, 228. 95. Chris Ryan, Recreational Tourism: Demands and Impacts (Clevedon: Channel View Publications, 2003), chap. 8. 96. Ryan, Recreational Tourism, 197; Ryan cites U. Mader’s “Tourism and the Environment,” in Annals of Tourism Research 15.2 (1988): 274–77. 97. Ryan, Recreational Tourism, chap. 8. 98. Michael Liddle, Recreation Ecology: The Ecological Impact of Outdoor Recreation and Ecotourism (London: Chapman and Hall, 1997), 550. 99. For macro- and micromeasures relating to the management of recreational damage to the environment, refer to, e.g., Ryan, Recreational Tourism, chap. 8. 100. Foltz, Inhabiting the Earth, xi, n. 2. He cites Lévinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991) (henceforth Lévinas, Totality and Infinity). 101. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 16. 102. Webb, The Gifting God, 57. 103. Webb, The Gifting God, 26. 104. Horner, Rethinking God as Gift, 247. 105. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chap. 18, para. 6, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-62.htm#P7979_2198226 (accessed August 1, 2003); also refer to Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, chap. 2, para. 2. 106. Martin Luther, “Of a Christian Life,” § 706, in Table Talk, trans. William Hazlitt (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society), on CCEL, http://www.ccel .org/l/luther/table_talk/table_talk32.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). For another example of thanking God for creation-gifts, refer to Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book XX, § 13, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-04/npnf1-0433.htm (accessed August 1, 2003); also refer to Tertullian, The Five Books Against Marcion, Book IV, chap. 17, in ANF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf0331.htm#P5230_1636728 (accessed August 1, 2003). 107. Basil, Homily 5, § 4, in PNF, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ NPNF2-08/Npnf2-08-13.htm#P2236_681498 (accessed August 1, 2003). 108. Cloud of Unknowing, chap. 8, on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/a/anonymous2/ cloud/htm/xiv.htm (accessed August 18, 2003). 109. François Fénelon, Spiritual Progess, in Fenelon and Madame Guyon, ed. James W. Metcalf (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1853), on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/f/fenelon/ progress/cache/progress.html3 (accessed August 1, 2003). 110. Moltmann, God in Creation, 71.


Notes to Pages 141–46

111. Moltmann, God in Creation, 70. 112. Webb, The Gifting God, 90; emphasis added. 113. Thomas Bunyan, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, chap. 8, ed. George Offor (London: Dorman Newman, 1689), on Acacia John Bunyan Online Library, http:// acacia.pair.com/Acacia.John.Bunyan/Sermons.Allegories/Jesus.Christ.Advocate/8.html (accessed August 8, 2003). 114. Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian Secret of a Happy Life, chap. 4 “How to Enter In,” on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/s/smith_hw/secret/secret07.htm (accessed August 1, 2003); also refer to Smith’s identification of a correlation between the gift and faith in The God of All Comfort, chap. 12 “A Word to the Wavering Ones,” on CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/s/smith_hw/comfort/cache/comfort.html3 (accessed August 6, 2003). 115. Jean-Louis Chrétien, The Unforgettable and the Unhoped For, trans. Jeffrey Bloechl (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 128. 116. Refer to Lévinas, Totality and Infinity, 110. 117. Marion, Being Given, 321.


Abbreviations ANF = The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Rev. A. Cleveland Coxe. Edinburgh and Grand Rapids: T. and T. Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, no date. CCEL = Christian Classics Ethereal Library Web site. Director, Harry Plantinga. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. http://www.ccel.org (accessed August 1, 2003). GGP = God, the Gift, and Postmodernism. Ed. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. PNF = A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Ed. Philip Schaff. Edinburgh and Grand Rapids: T. and T. Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, no date. Adams, Carol J., ed. Ecofeminism and the Sacred. New York: Continuum, 1993. Albertson, David. “On ‘the Gift’ in Tanner’s Theology: A Patristic Parable.” Modern Theology 21.1 (January 2005): 107–18. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Contra Gentiles. An Annotated Translation (with some Abridgement) of the Summa Contra Gentiles. Ed. Joseph Rickaby. London: Burns and Oates, 1905. Jacques Maritain Center Web site. http://www.nd.edu/De partments/Maritain/ etext/gc1_93.htm (accessed August 1, 2003). ———. Summa Theologica. Benziger Bros. edition (1947). CCEL. Main page. http:// www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/ (accessed August 4, 2003). (Refer to notes for specific URLs.) Arnobius. The Seven Books of Arnobius against the Heathen. In ANF. CCEL. http://www .ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-06/anf06-140.htm#P8283_2607320 (accessed August 1, 2003). 173



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INDEX A Abraham, 36, 69–72, 78, 96, 101 absence, 22, 36, 59, 80, 89–90, 97–98, 103 absentmindedness, 30, 43, 124, 137, 144 aisthe¯te¯s, 30 aesthetics, 27, 29–30 agnosticism, 16 androcentrism, 4, 24 anonymity, 15–16, 27, 77, 79–81, 84, 90, 144 anthropocentrism, ix, 4, 10, 12, 18, 24, 27, 42, 107, 117, 128, 136, 146 apophatism, 7, 52–53 aporia, 2–3, 5–8, 22, 26–28, 39–40, 43, 46, 47, 49, 51, 52, 54, 57, 58, 61–62, 69, 75, 78, 85, 86–87, 88, 91–93, 95, 99, 103–05, 107, 113, 114, 119, 123, 144, 145, 147 aporetic(ity), 2–3, 4–5, 7, 28, 31, 35, 39, 46, 48, 52, 53, 62, 78, 82, 85, 87, 88, 89–91, 93–94, 98, 100, 102, 104–05, 108, 123, 125–26, 140, 143, 145, 147 aporetics, 3–4, 7, 11–13, 15–16, 20–22, 24–25, 27, 29–30, 31, 45, 52, 57, 58, 63, 64, 78, 79, 85, 93, 107–09, 114, 118, 121, 125, 129 Aquinas, Thomas, 38–39, 46, 133

Aristotle/Aristotelian, 38–39 ascetic(ism), 19, 135 atheism, 16, 85, 143–44 Augustine/Augustinianism, 21, 63, 83, 116, 123, 127, 132, 134 autopoie¯sis, 13–14, 18, 30, 41, 120 Avicenna, 39 B Basil, 140 Bataille, Georges, 6, 46 Bible/biblical, 16–19, 22, 24–26, 31–34, 36, 41, 44, 46, 50, 52–53, 55, 62, 69, 71, 72, 124, 128–29, 132, 147 biocentric, 27, 128 biological, 10, 11 biophilia, 27 bribe, 32–34, 38, 41, 46, 62, 71, 142 Brown, Norman O., 130 Brueggemann, Walter, 36 Bunyan, Thomas, 37, 39, 141–42 Bushnell, Horace, 130 C Calvino, Italo, 10 Caputo, John D., ix, 1, 3, 27, 68–78, 80, 86, 95–98, 105, 115, 118, 135, 138, 140, 141, 143–44, 147 Carlson, Thomas A., 83–84, 86 183



Chrétien, Jean-Louis, 142 Christ(ic), 24, 26, 34, 35, 37, 38, 51, 55, 71, 72, 75, 78, 79, 101, 140, 141–42 Christian(ity)/Christendom, 15, 19–23, 25, 26, 31–33, 36, 38–39, 41, 43–44, 50–51, 54, 61–62, 71–74, 76–79, 81, 84, 85, 96, 100, 101, 110, 132, 133, 139–42, 144–45 Cobb, John, Jr., 102, 126 commodification/commodity, 5, 11, 93, 103, 116, 120, 131, 135, 137, 139, 143 consumerism/consumption, 11, 78, 116, 120, 126, 128, 130, 131, 135, 137, 139 contamination/contaminate, 76–77, 96–97, 100, 103 D debt/(inter)indebtedness, 5, 26, 48, 50, 52, 56, 59, 67–69, 71–79, 80–81, 87, 89–91, 95–96, 102–03, 105, 110, 119, 128, 133, 135, 138–41, 143, 144, 145, 147 decision, 1–3, 70, 79–80, 84, 85–86, 117 deconstruction/deconstruct(ive), 3, 70, 75, 86, 93, 96 deep, the, 17–18 Delightenment, 130, 142 Derrida, Jacques, 4, 6–8, 27, 33, 39, 46, 50, 57, 62, 67–71, 76–78, 82, 83–86, 89, 94, 95–105, 108, 119, 131, 135, 140, 147 Derridean, 31, 33, 41, 45–46, 57, 62, 63, 69, 72, 77, 86, 96, 100, 101, 102, 103 dialectic, 92 différance, 27–28, 101 Dionysius (Pseudo-Dionysius), 110

dogma(tism), 1–2, 15, 16, 26, 87, 144 dualism, 20, 23, 93 Duffy, Stephen J., 22, 23–24 E Eckhart, Meister, 11, 21, 109, 118, 134–35 ecodemocratism, 10–12, 27, 29–30, 134 ecofeminism, 12 ecological crisis, 3, 4, 19, 20, 37, 87, 114, 117, 125, 130 ecospirituality, 24–25 ecotheology/ecotheological/ecotheologian, 2, 8, 15, 19–20, 23, 24–27, 28, 31, 43, 61, 84, 86, 102, 108, 116, 124 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 46–47, 139 Enlightenment, 104, 130 ex nihilo, 17–18, 25, 28, 41, 44–45, 47, 50, 133 F feminism, 3, 25 Fénelon, François, 140 Fichte, J. G., 92 Foltz, Bruce V., 19, 107, 118, 121, 126, 138 Fox, Matthew, 19, 118, 125, 130, 134–35 Francis of Assisi, 10 G Gegebenheit, 63, 83, 99 Gelassenheit, 118, 123–25, 126, 135, 139 Geniestreich(e), 71–72, 73, 75, 77–79, 81, 87, 96, 140, 141, 144–45 givenness, 63–67, 76, 77, 80, 82–85, 86, 89–90, 105, 115, 120–21, 123, 141, 146 grace/gratia, 20–24, 31, 33, 35–38, 39, 46, 52, 62, 71–72, 75, 79, 81, 92, 93, 95, 102, 139, 142, 147

Index Grau, Marion, 100–02 Greisch, Jean, 83 Griffin, Susan, 10 H Hart, Kevin, ix, Hartshorne, Charles, 12 hedonism, 131, 134, 136, 142–44 Hegel, G. W. F., 13, 92 Heidegger, Martin, 19, 65, 70, 76, 79, 97, 98, 107, 115, 120, 121–22, 126, 139 Heraclitus, 13 hermeneutic(s), 2, 24, 30, 36, 52, 86–87, 108, 128 hesychia, 110–11, 113, 117, 118, 132, 135, 139 Hildegard of Bingen, 21 Holy Spirit, 24, 51 Hopkins, Gerard Manly, 22, 29 Horner, Robyn, ix, 3, 5, 6, 48–49, 56, 57, 65, 80, 82, 85, 135, 140, 141, 142 humility, 111, 116–17, 118, 125, 131, 132 Husserl, Edmund, 65, 76 I Ignatius, 132 Ignatius of Loyola, 19 instrumentalism, 12, 18–20, 23, 30, 37, 64, 108, 116, 120, 122, 124, 125–27, 139, 146 instrumentality, 20, 121, 125–27, 129, 132, 138, 147 Irenaeus, 21, 38, 39, 140 J John Chrysostom, 36, 38, 39, 133 John of Ruysbroeck, 116 Julian of Norwich, 21


K Kearney, Richard, ix, 85 Keller, Catherine, ix, 13, 17–18, 25–26, 28, 87, 95, 116, 123, 132 kenosis, 55, 84 Kierkegaard, Søren, 69–70, 72 kho¯ra, 27–28, 57, 101 L Lactantius, 15 letting-be, 17, 41, 107, 111, 113, 117–18, 120, 123–25, 126, 127, 129, 132, 134, 137, 145, 147, 148 Lévinas, Emmanuel, 70, 138, 143, 144 Lokensgard, Ken, 5 Lomborg, Bjørn, 4 Luther, Martin, 140 M Marcel, Gabriel, 117 Marion, Jean-Luc, 15, 39, 42, 54–57, 58–61, 62, 63, 65–68, 72, 75–78, 79–87, 89–91, 96–98, 99, 102, 103, 104, 105, 108–09, 113–15, 120–21, 125, 135, 138, 144, 146, 147 Mathews, Freya, 10, 11, 87, 122, 124 Mauss, Marcel, 8, 39 McDaniel, Jay, 15, 17, 25, 26, 27, 119, 126, 128–29, 134 McFague, Sallie, 2, 15, 21–22, 25, 26, 27, 102, 108, 116, 124–25, 130 metaphysics/metaphysical, 13, 54, 59–61, 65–67, 76, 87, 89–90, 96–98, 103, 109, 121 Milbank, John, 48–49 Moltmann, Jürgen, 17, 25, 26, 27, 132, 134, 140–41 Murray, Andrew, 37, 39, 133–34 mystic(ism), 21, 23, 97–98



N Newsom, Carol A., 132 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 13, 46, 47, 69, 70, 71, 73–78, 101, 135, 139, 140, 143, 144, 145 O Oelschlaeger, Max, 120 openness, 5, 14, 16, 21, 118, 125, 129, 138 oscillation/oscillate, 40, 50, 51, 53, 62, 89, 91–101, 103–05, 107, 108, 111, 112, 113, 120, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 134, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 144, 145–46, 147 ousia, 56–57 P panentheism, 26 panpsychism, 87 Pascal, Blaise, 11, 86, 115 Paul, 21, 22, 34, 35–36, 38, 52, 71–72, 73, 78, 133 phenomenology/phenomenological/ phenomenologist, 3, 12, 15, 54, 62, 63, 65, 66–67, 68, 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83–84, 85, 86, 87, 89, 90, 92, 99, 109, 120, 125, 144 phusis, 10, 11, 30, 120, 121, 122, 137, 138 Plotnitsky, Arkady, 101 Plumwood, Val, 20 poie¯sis, 13, 120 presence, 5, 13, 55, 59, 89–90, 97, 98, 100, 103, 105, 122, 126, 135 prodigal (son), 54–56, 58, 62, 72, 99 purity/(im)pure, 5, 6, 8, 18, 24, 33, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 46, 47, 48, 55, 66, 67, 69, 77, 78, 84, 87, 89–91, 93, 96–98, 100–03, 105, 119, 131, 147 praise, 19, 48, 54, 60, 139, 140–41, 142

Q Quakers, 110 Quigley, Peter, 131 R religare, 33, 48, 140 religion/religious, 1, 3, 14, 15, 19, 31, 33, 38, 41, 44, 48, 50, 53, 58, 70–71, 72, 74, 75, 81, 83, 84, 86, 103, 110, 114, 130, 135, 138, 139–40, 142, 143, 144, 145 Rigby, Kate, ix, 11, 124 Ruether, Rosemary Radford, 25, 27, 124 Rutherford, Samuel, 23 Ryan, Chris, 135–36, 137 S Schelling, F. W. J. von, 92 Schmitz, Kenneth L., 15, 18, 39–45, 49, 50, 54, 62, 63–65, 68, 108–09, 117, 135, 147 Schürman, Reiner, 125 science/scientific, 1, 11, 12, 19, 44, 64, 65, 84, 86, 114, 115, 120, 126, 137 scientism, 4, 115 Selbie, J. A., 34 silence, 7, 18, 22, 66, 69, 96, 109–11, 113, 117, 118, 125, 126, 135, 147, 148 Smith, Hannah Whitall, 142 Soper, Kate, 131 Spretnak, Charlene, 25 stewardship, 125, 127–29 squandering, 45–48, 50–51, 57, 62, 96, 112, 133, 136, 139, 142, 145, 147 T Tatian the Assyrian, 38, 39 Tauler, John, 23



Taylor, Mark C., ix, 16, 56, 130 techne¯, 27, 30, 111, 120, 131 technology, 20, 58, 64, 65, 86, 114–17, 120–21, 122, 124, 125, 126, 143 tehom, 17, 18, 26, 28, 79 Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, 22 Tertullian, 38, 39, 44, 46, 132 Thomist, 39 Traherne, Thomas, 133 Trappists, 110 trembling(s), 111–13, 116, 117, 125, 126, 147 Trinity/trinitarian, 15, 16, 49, 51, 94 tukhe¯, 6

V violence(s), 4, 11, 12, 20, 96, 109, 112, 117–24, 131, 132, 139, 146

U uncertainty, 2, 3, 7, 53 undecidability/undecidable, 1–2, 3, 4, 14, 15, 16, 18, 41, 44, 53, 79, 80, 82, 84, 85–86, 87, 129

Y Yahweh, 15, 33, 36

W Walker, Alice, 9 Wallace, Mark I., ix, 25, 26, 27, 87, 116, 124, 128–29 Webb, Stephen H., 7, 12, 39, 45–54, 57–61, 62, 63, 93–95, 110, 111–13, 116, 123, 130, 135, 139, 141–42, 145, 147 Westphal, Merold, ix, 100, 104 Whitehead, Alfred North, 12, 13

Z Zupancˇicˇ, Alenka, 73, 74–75

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